TBS have been called by God to His service, He will not allow the leadership to get away with the sort of practices that are carried on with seemingly little difficulty year after year by non-Christian cult leaders.
The Bible Speaks in the 1970s
Our evaluation of The Bible Speaks in the 1980s will be difficult to appreciate if one does not realize the extent to which the errant views on pastoral authority were both taught and acted on in the 1970s. CRI Research Consultant George Mather, who witnessed the growth of The Bible Speaks in New England, observes: "God used The Bible Speaks to reach many people. It was becoming the biggest ministry in New England. But when they got into this authority emphasis an elitism developed and they exalted themselves over other ministries. As this developed it often occurred that members of TBS and people who considered joining would often notice the extreme effects of 'delegated authority,' and this would turn them off to the ministry." The negative consequences of the authority emphasis have been telling indeed upon a group which had the potential to be one of the leading youth oriented ministries in the country.
If we assume that there has never been any merit to the leadership of The Bible Speaks we will fail to perceive the scope of the tragedy involved. Ron Kelly, a former pastor who had been active in the ministry for years, commented:
"I have to say that Pastor Stevens and the ministry have contributed an awful lot to my life. I just can't scrap the whole thing and say we didn't get any benefit at all. My family and I learned how to love in a deeper way. We gained more of an enthusiasm to win souls, and more of a vision for the world."
A former leader observed that Carl Stevens "... did have a passion for the lost. That's what's so confusing when you leave."
Stevens' personal charisma and vision for world evangelism and discipleship had great drawing power for many idealistic young believers (as well as quite a few older ones). Mark Bell, former pastor of the Brockton, Massachusetts Bible Speaks, observed: "There's really not much going on in New England, and The Bible Speaks ministry offers something more than nominal Christianity. They have a vision, and have made an attempt to give people something to do with their Christianity. I think that's why they've been successful in the past." Employing methodologies that had worked well for others, Stevens inspired
and helped organize successful evangelism teams, visitation ministries, Sunday schools, and day schools. He also established the Stevens School of the Bible, which offers a three-year curriculum "committed to educating men and women in the life revealed in the Word of God."
Like Calvary Chapel on the West Coast, The Bible Speaks drew heavily upon the counter-culture for their membership, and utilized more novel, less traditional approaches to ministry than did other evangelical churches in the surrounding areas. Though such approaches are likely to receive criticism, nonetheless they can often be at least as biblical and more useful than established forms that were developed to meet the needs of earlier times. However, we cannot attribute the bulk of the controversy that has surrounded TBS to mere novelty. The blame must be laid upon the unorthodox manner in which the leadership has perceived itself.
To put the matter in full perspective we must go back to a spiritual experience Carl Stevens reportedly had at the outset of his ministry:
"In the early 1960's when Pastor Stevens was preaching to a couple of very small congregations, God called him one day to the back of the woods near a lake. Then the Lord Jesus baptized him with what Pastor describes as liquid waves of love. Along with this experience God promised him several things. First and foremost, God promised an anointing upon every message he would preach from then on" (emphasis ours). (3)
As we will soon see with greater clarity, belief in this first promise of an anointing upon every message set up a potential psychological situation of unquestioning acceptance for Carl Stevens' interpretations of Scripture. It also encouraged a dependence upon him if one wanted to receive the progressive revelation of what was considered to be "God's heartbeat" or "God's thought" for the moment.
As with the relationship of the Pope to Roman Catholicism, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to Jehovah's Witnesses, when an individual or group is esteemed to have a unique link with God that is indispensable for those who desire the fullness of His grace, the potential for excessive devotion to and exaltation of the special "channel" is great. In the mid-seventies, as belief in Stevens' unique anointing took a firm hold, comments reflective of an attitude much more reminiscent of cultism than evangelical Christianity found their way into print:
"What was it like to walk with Jesus, to see His smile, and to be looked upon with that piercing glance, and to hear His precious voice speak those sanctified Words? What was it like to laugh with Him, to cry with Him, to eat with Him, and to be His friend. Most Christians have wondered this at one time or another. Those in the Bible Speaks stopped wondering years ago. To be a sheep under the shepherdship of Pastor Carl Stevens is to know intimately the person of the Lord .... To know Pastor Stevens is to know Christ. To love the Pastor is to love the One Who gave him to us. As one sheep, I speak for thousands who have been led by our beloved shepherd out of Egypt and out of the wilderness into the promised land. We pour our hearts out to him in thanksgiving and love for having, in his life, shown us the living Christ." (4)
"His constant expression of God's pure love toward the Body and of perfect grace toward sinners and the weak causes our hearts again and again to exclaim with joy, "Yes, that is what God is like!"...Dearest Pastor, we thank you with all of our hearts for a life so full and so free. We love you, dear Shepherd. We love you." (5)
"Above all, our pastor, teacher, and prophet walks, talks, and practices every word that he receives in revelation. He is a man without spot or blemish and has shown himself approved (2 Timothy 2:15). He is indeed a true man of God." (6)
"Whether from the pulpit, or on cassette tape, or in the college class, or just at informal times with him alone at lunch, each word that comes from Pastor Stevens' mouth is anointed richly and reveals more the at-one-ment and the Truth imparted to us by the Finished Work of Him in whom we trust." (7)
An individual who was intimately involved in the early days of The Bible Speaks said that though Carl Stevens liked the adulation that he received, he did not evoke all of it himself. For example, it was not Stevens who first applied the title of "apostle" to himself. Some of Stevens' more dedicated followers were discussing what they thought an apostle is like, and decided Stevens fit their description. When they offered him recognition as a modern-day apostle, he accepted it.
People who were with Stevens from the beginning of his ministry say that it was in South Berwick, Maine that his
emphasis on authority became especially heavy. He read Watchman Nee's Spiritual Authority, and using the book as a basis (though not remaining especially faithful to all of the principles it sets forth) he developed his own particular doctrine of "delegated authority." (There is nothing necessarily unbiblical about the concept of delegated authority per se; thus, when in this report that doctrine of delegated authority that Stevens has taught is referred to, it is distinguished with quotation marks.) He also absorbed some of the dubious ideas promoted by R.B. Thieme of Berachah Church in Houston, Texas. (8) In the mid-seventies much of Stevens' teaching was directed toward establishing as biblical fact the premise that all Christians should be submitted to a special man of God, or "God's man," who as Christ's delegated authority is given special vision to lead the Lord's people into the fullness of His plan. Though Stevens' estimation of his own importance during that period is not eminently clear, a former leader observes: "At one time most of us in South Berwick thought that all Christians would submit to Stevens."
Accompanying the conviction that their leader was superior to other leaders in New England was the belief that The Bible Speaks was the most important, dynamic ministry around. Though not generally out of any premeditated designs, TBS members often caused fractures in local churches because of their conviction that Christians outside of their ministry were missing out on God's best. Marty O'Brien, formerly the pastor of a large TBS church in Auburn, Maine, confessed: "In the early days when we found groups that were searching for life we gave them this 'unity, oneness, be a part of the body' thing. We were actually inducing people to be a part of our organization, though I didn't see it at the time."
Any effort to determine what has contributed to the problems that have beset The Bible Speaks should not overlook a situational ethic that has spread through much (though not all) of the ministry. In the taped message Wisdom Is Justified of Her Children, Carl Stevens told his followers:
"Wisdom; she's always justified. Whatever she does, she's justified. Does that mean that the ends justifies the means? (That was the old Jesuit theory.) No, it doesn't -- it doesn't mean that. However, may I say this: it's possible for the end to justify the means. But the end doesn't always justify the means -- but it's possible for it to."
Former TBS public relations representative Leon Libby cogently observes:
"One of the biggest things we did in the early stages of the ministry that caused deception to filter in was this philosophy that the end justifies the means. The Bible story of Rahab the harlot lying to the spies, and the water looking like blood (9) were used as justification for telling people less than the truth, omitting facts, misrepresentation, and so forth. It was reasoned that since the most important purpose was winning souls to Jesus Christ, if that meant sometimes bolstering up your ministry and telling people you had more than was there, or enlarging what you were doing, it was justified. Once you start doing that, it's easy to carry it over. Before you came [i.e., before this writer visited TBS headquarters in Lenox for the first time] I spent weeks looking for any excerpt or one-liner out of a message that I could present to you. And you'd better believe I passed over a lot of stuff I couldn't present to you."
Once a situational ethic was embraced by some of the leadership, a framework was established which would allow disobedience to biblical principles to be rationalized rather than faced and repented of. Thus, small sins could lead to bigger sins in a continuing progression with no inherent restraint to reverse the process -- until the consequences would reach devastating proportions.
Having considered the foregoing as background, if we are to sufficiently grasp the nature of Carl Stevens' teaching on leadership and authority in the mid-seventies we must turn our attention to some graphic examples of that teaching itself. Either by direct quote or summary we will review essential components and characteristic features of Stevens' theology on these subjects as he presented it in four taped messages. Additionally, we will offer our own comments and observations where we consider it appropriate.
In the tape, What it Means to Be Baptized Unto a Man, Stevens spells out his doctrine of "delegated authority" in such a plain, comprehensive manner that the substance and implications of the doctrine are unmistakable. In this message Stevens uses Moses as an example of "delegated authority." He points out that Moses (and thus, according to his analogy, all delegated authorities) had a direct communication with God inaccessible to the common people, which necessitated the people's complete obedience to his every word, under penalty of divine judgment. Stevens affirms: "I want to say this pertaining to the leadership of the ministry: [God] did
not speak to them, He only spoke to Moses, and they had to follow Moses exactly -- verbatim. If they didn't, they were in serious trouble." He goes on to affirm that God speaks to delegated authorities mouth to mouth, as a man talks to a friend about the business. "God had to take Joshua away from the people to speak to them. He told Joshua -- Joshua told them."
Stevens points out that many people are not submitted to a single man of God, and maintains: "God has different people He wants to line up with different men, and that's how He operates." He makes an interesting comment which we will leave to the reader to interpret: "Jesus doesn't appoint many to these positions - not many leaders of that caliber, because Jesus Christ usually only has one of them in a generation."
In his explanation of exactly what it means to be baptized unto a man, Stevens reveals the extent off unreserved devotion he expected to receive from those who sat under his ministry: "...obey his teachings, submit to his love, protect and honor his ministry, co-labor with his purpose without question, without pretense, without hesitation, without giving him a hard time, [his voice rises] without putting him off again and again in procrastination and disobedience, and subtle rebellion... [the Christian should say to 'God's man'] 'I'm going to be with you until you drop, I'm going to be baptized unto your life, unto your heart, unto your soul, unto your prayers.'" Later in the tape Stevens affirms again that the believer "...must be baptized unto a man of God, be true to him, honor him with double honor, submit to him, never criticize him, being willing to die with him."
Stevens details the purpose and benefits of "delegated authority": "It gives you as a people clarity ... definition ... direction ... specific purpose in your life ... if you listen to [as many] of his messages as you can... you'll get the whole content of what God is saying to the church." We might point out that as a result of this emphasis, and TBS' emphasis upon the "corporate body," the opportunity for one to receive an individual vision and leading from the Lord was severely restricted. The leadership received the full vision of where God was leading, and it was always a corporate vision. If one did not take up his "corporate cross" and do exactly what the body was doing, he was considered by many to have an "independent walk" which avoided the cross.
How can we recognize a man of God? Stevens goes on in What it Means to Be Baptized Unto a Man to explain that God's man always has a revelation. He preaches "astounding messages." He is a sinner saved by grace like others, but God has elevated him because of his anointing. He didn't deserve this anointing -- it is received by grace.
Previously we cited the charge that "... one doesn't dare listen to anyone who has anything against the ministry and the leaders; yet it's O.K. for leaders to sin while continuing their ministries." How such a situation could have developed is perhaps more easily understood if we consider the psychological impact that statements such as the following (which have often been made) must have had: "Moses was called of God not because he was a good man. He had a vicious temper. He murdered an Egyptian ... Aaron and Miriam thought God would speak to them equally as He did to him - she didn't think he was beyond challenging at that point, but God did ... even though he married out of his race .... She incurred judgment .... Nobody goes against God's man."
Stevens makes it clear that the concept of leadership he is presenting is not merely incidental to the Christian life: "You'll never be filled or full apart from God's man." To the Christian who responds, "I don't want to follow a man, I want to follow Jesus," Stevens replies: "I've got news for you - that can't be done .... Thus saith the Lord."
In the tape Following a Man or God? Stevens develops an elaborate theology apparently calculated to suppress criticisms of his ministry that were being voiced by some of his former followers. He teaches that to receive the provision and protection of the word of God one needs to receive it meekly. He then defines meekness as "transferring your rights." Among the rights that must be given up is the right to the "tree of knowledge." The "tree of knowledge" is what Adam ate of, and our "Adam" (carnal nature) seeks knowledge as a pretext for rebelling against authority. Stevens exhorts his congregation to "lean not to your own understanding" (which he associates with the "self life"), but rather come under the authority of God's word, man, body, and Jesus Christ (he insists it's not possible to follow Jesus alone). Otherwise, they will be double-minded, will not receive the word of God in meekness, and thus will not be blessed.
(He cites James 1:6-8) "How do you overcome that double-mindedness? When you receive the word of God, receive it as the word of God from a man. That is, if it's a ministry that has fruit, that has the credentials - preaches the gospel, believes in the death, burial, resurrection, ascension ... the second coming ... the new birth ... believes that you must believe in the word of God, all of it, and walk in the Spirit, believes in worldwide evangelism and has love and has changed lives in its ministry. That's the test of whether or not the ministry is from God. Once you find out that the ministry is of God according to the test of the word of God,
by its fruit, then you should listen to the man speak not as a man, but as God." (He then quotes I Thess. 2:13) "'For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.' Then when you receive it, friends, as the word of God, it starts to work in you effectually. When you stop trying to challenge it, to test it in terms of your Adam's evaluation, then it begins to become effective working in you ... The mark of a person that has true meekness and is a real Christian - he gladly receives the word of God (i.e., the message that the man of God preaches). He doesn't set back and cipher out what's what and what isn't and what is, so that he can still live and have his rights. But he transfers his rights in Adam with meekness and receives the word of God."
Thus the messages preached by God's man are identified with what Paul was speaking of in I Thess. 2:13 (the word of God, not the word of man), and any critical evaluation of such messages becomes equated with the workings of "Adam" or the fallen nature.
Stevens goes on to say that he's not taking away people's ability to think and test things, but it must be done "...in faith, in love, and in God, not in Adam which divides, separates, intimidates, and condemns." This sounds nice, but experience has borne out that in practice anything that disagrees with the "Apostles' doctrine" (which he associates with his teaching) is "in Adam."
In God's Blessing of Delegated Authority Stevens again did much to reinforce the psychological conditioning which has resulted in distressing apprehensions of divine retribution for many who have left the group (see pp. 43-44):
"By not receiving the man that is sent and delegated, you are rejecting Christ, and no one will admit that is true. But that's what the Bible says. This is not written in Genesis, it's written in Matthew. If they receive you, they receive me. If they receive me, they receive the one that sent me. The Lord said it's a matter of understanding delegated authority and who is sent. If they're sent, you'd better not criticize their methods; just commit it to God and just receive him. (This passage) means if you bless them, you're blessed, and if you reject them, you're
rejected in your experience. It means that the blessing and curse of your life depends on what you do, not just with the Spirit of God, or with the word of God, but with the man of God who's sent. God mocks people who sin and won't get right as He casts them into hell. So you had better think twice before you question anything we say. There's years of Scripture behind our thoughts, even if they appear to be different." (emphasis ours)
The parallel between Moses and the New Testament leader is again drawn in He Shall Be for You in God's Stead, and Stevens again acknowledges that this parallel is not commonly recognized by orthodox churches. "I think so many people have been reared up because of their ecclesiastical fears and they have missed the point of God's true government in the order of love. Did you ever realize that a man comes instead of God and takes literally God's place as far as what he says...?" (emphasis ours) Later in this message, using Exodus 4:16 as a base, Stevens goes out of his way to expound upon the power that the man of God has with God as well as with men, and makes certain that no one assumes that Moses alone wielded such authority.
(In this portion of his sermon Stevens is relating what God might have said to Moses) "...(Aaron) shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. Moses, you will take My place over Miriam. She has no right to ever criticize you one single time. And if she does, she will have leprosy. If I want to give you permission to marry a black lady, that's My business. It's none of Miriam's. And if I want to say it, that's my privilege. And Moses, I am going to put you ahead of an entire nation, and you are going to take My literal place. And when you ask Me something, I'll do it, and if you ask Me to change My mind, I'll do it. I'm investing heaven in your mouth." ("God" is now finished speaking, and Carl Stevens resumes): "And you better believe it that the Christian church hasn't faced that. And they say, 'That's Moses.' Is that right? Well, that's from the pit of hell. You say, 'Is anyone supposed to take God's place?' You just bet God has ordained His servant to be in His place using his mouth because He works through men revealing Himself. What if they get off (i.e., deviate from sound doctrine and practice)? You can be sure as long as they are around (i.e., God hasn't judged them with death) God likes them" (emphasis ours).
It would be easy to infer what this kind of teaching could lead to, but Stevens saves us the trouble by spelling it out himself: "For example, if I said tonight that the ministry here in South Berwick needs $30,000, I want six of you to raise it, that have got it, to bring it in to lay it at our feet, I want you to do it; you shouldn't even have to pray about that. I am here in Jesus Christ's place" (emphasis ours).
How did Stevens reply to the believer who had difficulties with such a radical view of church leadership? Our last quote from He Shall Be for You in God's Stead gives us some indication. "[You say] 'Well, I question that kind of a ministry' ... I question if you are saved. I question if you are saved. That is as clear as salvation is."
Stevens and other Bible Speaks representatives have often stated that the above messages, when considered in isolation, appear extreme, but when viewed in the larger context of the overall teaching that was delivered during the mid-seventies a balance is achieved. However, it seems clear to us that such radical claims and intimidating warnings as those quoted above would inevitably have a pronounced psychological impact upon impressionable young believers, regardless of how different the content and tone of other messages may have been. And, in contrast to claims that relatively few references to authority were actually made during that period, we must point out that the concepts of "delegated authority" were presented on 72 distinct occasions in the monthly devotional The Bible Speaks From the Throne (the content of which was taken from Stevens' sermons) between September, 1975 and December, 1978.
We must emphasize that we do not mean to imply that such messages as those represented above (with their heavy emphasis on "delegated authority") continue to be delivered by Carl Stevens today. Our purpose for citing them is rather to demonstrate the extent to which Stevens' teaching on authority was developed in the 1970s, so that the reader can appreciate the far-reaching impact that they had within the ministry. Once one grasps the reality of how deeply these teachings affected a large proportion of TBS membership, it should be easier to understand why we believe sufficient action has not been taken to counter the unhealthy psycho-spiritual situation that they helped to establish.
Leon Libby recalls: "The experience of liquid waves of love and promise of anointing upon every message was one of the beginning things that caused a major problem. He believed that everything he said was anointed. People around the campus would say: 'Did you go
to service last night?' If you said 'No,' it was understood that you missed what God had for the hour. 'Did you go to rap session?' 'No.' 'Whoa, you missed what God had!'"
Because they believed every message he preached was anointed, Stevens' followers uncritically accepted these "delegated authority" teachings. By instilling these concepts of leadership into the ministry, Stevens strongly reinforced the blind devotion that the supposed promise of anointing on every message had already procured for him.
Accompanying (and perhaps giving rise to) Stevens' authority teachings was an acute insistence upon absolute loyalty, and an obsessive concern over whether various people within the ministry would remain faithful to him. Former leaders Bob Olivadoti and Ed Mosher recall: "Three or four times while we were in The Bible Speaks, Stevens had services where you would go up to the back of the church and speak into a tape recorder or sign something that said 'I will never go against Pastor Carl Stevens and The Bible Speaks.' At least once it was notarized."
Jim Heinz, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Lake Elsinore, California (which, until mid-1982, was a Bible Speaks branch ministry), participated in the same procedure:
"I remember when they had these tape recorders lined up in the back of the church. And because the commitment Stevens wanted everybody to make was so long, you didn't say what it was you were committing yourself to. You just said: 'I agree with what was said on Oct. 27, 1979, and I support it totally,' and you'd give your name and address. This was done to show your loyalty to The Bible Speaks, and to say that you wouldn't be deceived by the devil. You were making a pact with God that you would go all the way with Him, and the way to go all the way with God is to go all the way with The Bible Speaks ministry. That's what Carl Stevens said. But then he also says, 'I didn't want all this devotion.' What can you expect when a guy makes such an investment in people's lives? Naturally, they're going to love him."
Carl Stevens demanded unreserved dedication from TBS membership, and hundreds of them complied. Some acted out their devotion so zealously that an increasing number within the evangelical community began to view The Bible Speaks as an aberrant group.
When the leadership of a ministry is depicted as taking "literally God's place as far as what he says," and the people are warned that they had "better not criticize their methods," lest they be rejected by God in their "experience," the possibilities for abuses of power to occur are maximized. Some of these possibilities, unfortunately, have been realized in the case of The Bible Speaks.
To cite the names and stories of a long list of people who claim that certain TBS leaders manipulated or took advantage of them would be too painful for everyone concerned (except for those with vindictive feelings, and they must release such feelings to God). Perhaps the most discreet means by which we can impart some understanding of the questionable manner in which TBS authority has often been wielded is to refer to the ordeal of one conscientious pastor in the late 1970s.
Mark Bell was one of the Bible Speaks leaders who gave us hope for the ministry. We were made aware of one occasion in which he rebuked a member of his congregation who was proclaiming what a blessing it is to receive the flow of Stevens' anointing through the authorities he delegates. At another time, George Mather pointedly asked Bell and an intern pastor: "If you found out that what Stevens is teaching contradicts Jesus Christ and the Bible, would you still follow it?" The intern, answering first, replied: "I would still follow Pastor Stevens because he has helped me." Then Bell, hesitating for a moment, responded: "No, I couldn't follow him if he contradicted Jesus and the Bible." (In August, 1981, after concluding that Stevens was in conflict with Scripture, Bell did in fact resign from the organization). He recalls:
"In the early days of the Brockton church we were meeting in a basement with about 40 or 50 people. There were some families in the church who gave money so we could build a church. One man gave $5,000. So Lenox (where TBS headquarters was by that time located) heard about that, and John Palmer (who was in charge of finances) called us and asked us to give the $5,000 to Lenox. And Bobby [Olivadoti] and Leon [Libby] came asking us to give to Lenox. About a year later another man wanted to give $1,000 to Brockton, and John Palmer said: 'No, Lenox needs it.' The branch ministries were becoming just another way to get money into home base. There was no consideration for the branch ministries. Jeannie Monahan, a widow in our church, gave all her money and others in that area gave money. I felt like I was forced to stay there to maintain a little Bible study in a superficial way just so the ministry could save
face - so we would not be accused of going into an area, taking money from people, and then leaving. That's the way I felt for a long time there, and I couldn't get out of it. It came to the point where we were just defending The Bible Speaks. We were trying to protect and cover The Bible Speaks by maintaining good testimonies in the branch ministries. But the headquarters continued to be irresponsible. After a while you felt betrayed."
Once the concepts of "delegated authority" and "the end justifies the means" were planted in a number of minds, it was only a matter of time before they would blossom into full-blown controversy. The Bible Speaks became a subject for media exposes in New England and elsewhere, especially after the mass suicide by Peoples Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana. Evangelical churches and organizations often shunned TBS, because they'd had bad experiences with TBS members, received reports of questionable doctrines or activities, or heard that Christian radio personalities and counter-cult groups were investigating TBS and classifying them a "Christian cult."
In the late 1970s, membership was still growing, but so was the controversy, and The Bible Speaks found themselves at a turning point - an identity crisis of sorts. The leadership of the ministry would have to determine the answer to questions that many Christians outside of the organization were also asking. Would the new sect persist in its unorthodox ways, become increasingly alienated from evangelical Christianity, and take its place among the many cults and aberrational groups who have their roots in orthodox Christianity? Or would it identify the areas of its teaching and practice that were creating hindrances for its ministry, re-evaluate them from a biblical standpoint, and take the necessary steps to firmly realign itself with historic Christianity?
There were other issues besides doctrine and image at stake in this crisis. Leon Libby related to this writer:
"At a dinner table four or five years ago with Pastor Stevens, a few other people, and myself, Alan Emery* warned Pastor Stevens that one of the things the devil would try to do was take away his character. These were seasoned men. They'd been with Billy Graham for 30 years, and they knew what they were talking about." Similar exhortations were given to Stevens and other representatives of TBS by Walter Martin and CRI, after they invited us to dialogue
*Emery is Chairman of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's Board of Directors, and has served as a member of the Board for over 20 years.
with them. It was obvious that at least some of them were really listening to us, and desired to plant the ministry more firmly on biblical ground.
The Bible Speaks in the Early 1980s
The dialogue, though arduous for both sides, appeared to be fruitful. At least partly as a result of our input, the teachings on Stevens' apostleship and anointing were suspended, and on at least a few occasions Stevens encouraged the congregation to test everything, including his own teaching, by Scripture. The Bible Speaks Goes on Record was written and sent to branch pastors, and some positive structural changes were made (an advisory committee was formed for The Bible Speaks World Outreach, Carl Stevens resigned from the presidency of the Bible school, and steps were taken toward making the school independent of the church - though the process was never completed). In the interest of a fair and accurate report, we include the following statements, made by Gene Hollick:
"When Don Norton and I came to Lenox we formed with Stevens' consent - for the ministry, not the school, - a management committee, and I must say that the committee made the decisions, many times in direct opposition to his opinion. He would argue his position, but he never overruled them. And he was in a position to, because they really didn't have any authority other than what he gave them after he appointed them. Some of the decisions we made were very difficult for him. He opposed our decisions, but he submitted to them. The board made administrative decisions, and did not dictate the content of the ministry's teaching or preaching.
"He appointed me president of the college and at no time in the entire time I was there did he ever tell me what to do or how to run the school. The only time that he and I ever had any kind of disagreement on a school matter was over whether we should continue to support Steve Quinlan on a leave of absence. Steve worked for both The Bible Speaks and the school. The separation of the school and church had not taken place legally, and he overruled me in order to discontinue Steve's salary."
In the wake of these positive steps, CRI asked other cult research ministries to refrain from drawing essentially negative conclusions, and making such conclusions public, until we all had time to see if the changes in TBS were sufficiently consistent and deep.
The Bible Speaks Goes on Record was written by Bob Olivadoti (who was the head of TBS' Public Relations Department) and Steve Quinlan (pastor and prominent teacher in the Bible school), with some help from Ed Mosher (pastor and assistant to Olivadoti in public relations work). They reviewed the important points of the statement with Carl Stevens, and he approved it for distribution. After CRI's two reports were published, Olivadoti, Quinlan, and others who had been involved in dialogue with us were excited about the positive effect they felt both our commendations and criticisms could have for the ministry. When they discussed the reports with Stevens they were surprised by his reaction. He seemed to perceive our analysis in the worst possible light, only seeing the negatives, and resenting the criticism. At that point it became apparent to those who were working for change that Stevens was not as supportive of their position as they had hoped; they began to suspect that the primary reason he agreed to the doctrinal statement and the changes was merely to improve TBS' public image and relations.
In the meantime, there were other leaders in the ministry who left no question about their position on the changes. As Gene Hollick relates it: "John Palmer (pastor of the Wilmington, Massachusetts Bible Speaks) was adamant that he was a very strong supporter of the "delegated authority" position. He worked very diligently to convince Dr. Stevens that he was making a serious error to make any change in that position. And Mike Graves [TBS pastor who at that time was in charge of the Johnston, Rhode Island branch ministry] was, too." Mark Bell recalls: "Before I left, Graves was talking about 'the old Bible Speaks' and 'the new Bible Speaks,' and never the two shall meet. The 'old Bible Speaks' are the hard-core people who believe in Stevens' apostleship, and the 'new Bible Speaks' are the people who are trying to modify things and make the ministry more professional."
While the old ideas were clearly entrenched in some corners, it so happened that The Bible Speaks leaders who represented the ministry to us had been personally struggling with the issue of "delegated authority" before CRI came into the picture. Because we did not take an antagonistic position toward TBS, they were able to listen to our constructive criticisms, which furthered their own understanding of biblical concepts of leadership. The dialogue also confirmed to them that certain things they'd been feeling were correct. Bob Olivadoti and Ed Mosher commented:
"We were thinking about these kinds of things before we bumped into CRI. That's why I thought it was a godsend when you guys came on the scene, because we needed an objective opinion of The Bible Speaks that we couldn't get. We'd be going to God and repenting for these kinds of ideas and saying to Pastor, 'Please forgive us for having these bad thoughts about you and the ministry,' when all the time it was God the Holy Spirit trying to set us free."
These were the "new Bible Speaks" people that Graves spoke of. They were not simply striving to make the ministry more "professional," they were striving to make it more biblical.
One of the major challenges that Walter Martin and CRI brought to TBS in our dialogue was: "Do you want the gospel to be advanced in your ministry without hindrance? If you do, then these are the things you'll have to change..." That challenge was accepted by everyone with whom we dialogued, except, perhaps, Carl Stevens. All of them have left the ministry now but him.
Leon Libby told us: "Bobby and I, Marty and Steve thought, 'These are some of the things that will help the ministry to grow.' But they were looked upon as an infringement upon authority." After a while it became known that the people with whom we were primarily dealing were being criticized behind their backs because they were in agreement with our analysis of the ministry. Though good has definitely come out of it, the negotiation failed to accomplish the purpose for which it was initiated. The reason for this becomes apparent when we realize that the ones appointed to represent the organization were not really of one mind with the one who controls it (though he appointed them).
Leon Libby observes:
"Everything was OK as long as you didn't oppose Stevens in any decision-making process that he wanted. I felt like, 'What am I doing here?' We come up with ideas that maybe will help the ministry grow, give it a better image (in the image of Christ). We find men that are willing to help. (Alan Emery said, 'I'll come up and really help you with your finances' - that is, not with donations, but administratively. And we said, 'Let him have it. Turn it over to him. He has done a good job for Billy Graham.' But the response was negative.) And finally it reached a point where you say: 'Then what am I here for? If nobody is listening to my ideas, and yet I'm
supposed to he bringing in ideas for the development of the ministry, then my being here is a farce.'"
Bob Olivadoti explains why he resigned:
"I felt that the Lord had brought Dr. Martin and Christian Research Institute into our pathway to help us reform some of our theology, especially in the areas of the exaltation of Carl Stevens and the principles of 'delegated authority.' When I found that Carl Stevens was in disagreement with what I and many other believers felt was a biblical approach to authority in the church, then I felt that it was time for me to leave."
Seven months after The Bible Speaks Goes on Record was published, we received a letter from Terry Josselyn, who identified himself as a Stevens School of the Bible graduate and TBS staff employee in Lenox (we'd had no previous contact with him). He wrote: "The same tendencies appear now as were spoken of in your report, and have continued after the publication of The Bible Speaks Goes on Record and the repentance tape A New Beginning (see p. 57). The changes are there, but it seems to me to be just another layer of covering instead of a humble and contrite heart of repentance. Surely it suggests error in the past, but because I am close to the people I see it as no change at all." In Steve Quinlan's view: "He rubber-stamped the doctrinal statement and was willing to have it published, I believe, because he recognized that it would have a positive effect as far as CRI was concerned. But I don't believe that his attitude toward himself and his peculiar calling from God was changed in the least."
Since "delegated authority" is no longer taught from the pulpit, a natural question is whether the old ideas are still being communicated through a different means. Mark Bell makes this observation, based upon his experience in Massachusetts up to August, 1981:
"From the pulpit he would say, 'I don't believe in delegated authority.' Then he would have a group around him at a coffee shop and he would stress his importance as a unique and exceptional leader. He would try to bolster our faith in him as a great prophet by arguing that seemingly unfulfilled prophecies that he had given in the 1970s were in fact coming to pass.
"He personally disciples people, and if you really want to be with it in The Bible Speaks, you have to be around him. He will go out for coffee and maybe 50 people will follow him. They'll have a rap session and he will do almost all of the
talking. He also has rap sessions after services. In these sessions he is able to get his ideas across.
"Even though he changed outwardly, the control that he exerted over people was still present. I remember once before a meeting a few of us went out with Stevens and he began talking about how the people close to him were 'off.' He mentioned how Steve Quinlan was off, and how Mike Graves was off, and how Bobby Olivadoti was thinking this way. It was an example, I think, of a control that he felt that he had as God's man over these people. In other words, he could think anything that he wanted about them in the name of discerning their spirits, to try to manipulate them back, or to have people side with him against them.
"Olivadoti, and particularly Quinlan, were challenging him a lot the past year before I left. Rap sessions would he centered around gaining people on his side against them. He would ask, 'Who has an intellectual spirit? Intellectual spirits are like this: they challenge authority, they don't submit to God or God's man.' People there would immediately think, 'He must be talking about Quinlan, or so-and-so.' The rap sessions and messages would be geared around the games he was playing with people. People that didn't understand that would come and maybe be blessed by it, or not see anything wrong with it, but there was a whole other level to what he was referring to."
Jim Heinz observes:
"Stevens doesn't have to preach it to the new people that are coming in, because now those ideas can be passed on by the teachings and attitudes of those to whom he preached it before, who now have positions in the ministry." Mario Maston, who served as Dean of Students at the Stevens School of the Bible in Lenox until as recently as the summer of 1982, relates: "There are people that still hold the old views very strongly. It's quite evident. Where it tends to come out is in conversations around coffee where certain people in the leadership of the organization are together. That's where it tends to become more apparent than from the pulpit these days."
Leon Libby had this encounter with Stevens during one of these informal gatherings:
"The last confirmation to me that I was supposed to leave happened when my wife and I were sitting in the restaurant in Lenox, and Pastor Stevens came in with a bunch of people. I had told him I was moving to Maine at the time. He
gave me this rousing, 20-minute sermon on how people who move to Maine are going back to Egypt, and there will be earthquakes there and all these kinds of things."
Mark Bower, assistant pastor to Jim Heinz in Lake Elsinore, pinpoints what we consider to be one of the most serious shortcomings in The Bible Speaks' efforts to change:
"What I have found is that there has been a definite outward change in many of the aspects of the ministry. But when it comes down to really dealing with problems, it's no different. Instead of Stevens saying: 'Yes, I was wrong, and this and this is true,' he won't admit that anything was wrong. A sister told me: 'He's repented. How can you question his heart?' I said: 'I question it because I never, as a pastor, nor any other pastor, got a letter saying: "This is what I've repented of. These are the teachings that were wrong. This is what we're doing to change them and make things right."' We never got anything.
"I always felt it was the kind of thing where you couldn't just say nothing and then start teaching what you thought was right. You would have to come before the people and say: 'This was wrong. Not only was there misunderstanding of what we meant; what we meant was not right.'
"We're not just dealing with a situation of 'This is my church.' For many people, The Bible Speaks is their whole life. It affects every area: the way you think about your mother, your wife or girlfriend, your kids, your car, your clothes - everything is affected by that preaching. It's impossible to erase it simply by saying 'OK, we're not going to talk about "delegated authority" anymore.' It's permeated your entire being, it's going to take more than that to stop you from believing in it."
While some important steps were taken toward correcting problem areas in the ministry's teaching and operation, these steps were not adequate to resolve the internal turmoil and public relations problems that The Bible Speaks had been suffering from for some time. A major reason for this was because the previous emphasis upon Stevens' unique anointing and "delegated authority" was never openly repented of and repudiated as unbiblical. Thus, this made it inevitable that many of those
who had been heavily indoctrinated with these concepts (including some of the pastors) would continue to believe and act according to them, which in turn could only result in further abuses and controversy. Additionally, though Stevens toned down his teaching and appointed an advisory committee, he often continued to wield his authority as though he was still operating from the principles of "delegated authority" and an unchallengeable anointing (specific instances of this will be cited later). The result of all this was that we received nearly as many complaints about TBS from people around the country after the release of The Bible Speaks Goes on Record as we did prior to its publication.
After becoming besieged with calls accusing TBS of infidelity to their doctrinal statement, we withheld our reports from distribution, compiled a list of the charges (with supporting testimony) that people were making against TBS, and forwarded the list to TBS for their response. By this time Bob Olivadoti had resigned from his position, and Chuck Carter, who had formerly been editor of the ministry's magazine, Crossroads, was now representing TBS as Director of Public Relations. We were pleased to discover that Carter was candid and conscientious in his dealings with us. He recognized the problems in TBS' past authority emphasis, and he wanted the ministry to be worthy of the better public image he was working to secure for it.
Throughout 1981 Chuck Carter, Steve Quinlan, and a number of others in Lenox were working hard to establish more biblical concepts of leadership as official positions within The Bible Speaks. Steve Quinlan in particular was teaching concepts of church leadership from the pulpit and in the Bible school which were similar to those presented by Larry Richards and Clyde Hodke in A Theology of Church Leadership. To such teaching certain people around Stevens reportedly responded: "No, pastor, that's not true. You're God's man." Unfortunately, two camps began to take clear form in Lenox, with those who supported the efforts of Quinlan and Carter in the minority. At CRI we determined that we would refrain from taking a position on TBS until it was clear which doctrine of leadership would prevail.
For a while it appeared uncertain which side of the fence Stevens was on. Then we began to receive reports that "There has been much preaching from the pulpit against those who 'challenge authority.'"
One of the charges included in the list that we forwarded to Lenox was "The doctrine of 'delegated authority' as expressed in the message What it Means to Be Baptized Unto a man is still in force, though it is not taught from the pulpit." In Carter's original reply to this charge (which Stevens changed before it was sent to us - Carter later sent us the original) he wrote:
"I had been prepared to answer this charge with the observation that change is taking place which supports our position taken in TBS Goes on Record. However, on August 5, 1981 Pastor Stevens preached a very forceful message which seemed to reinstate the basic delegated authority position. In the message he stated that the branch ministry pastors are united behind him and want a return to the old ways and old teachings. He stressed the importance of oneness and loyalty, saying (seemingly) that only faculty members who were "one" with him, loyal to him and in accord with his views and teachings would be allowed to teach in the fall.*"
A hard-line position such as this tends to substantiate the charge. Furthermore, it renders useless (or seems to) the labors of CRI and the internal efforts for change by Olivadoti, Libby, Lemaster, Huff, Mosher, Quinlan, Hollick, and Carter. It seems consistent with the trend in the messages of late to be hard-line, and to steadfastly resist change.
Chuck Carter related to this writer an experience he had during this period:
"One Saturday morning I got a call into the office from Bruce Stevens (Carl Stevens' oldest son). He and Mario Maston and Carl Stevens wanted to talk to me. This was maybe a month after I had done my version of the report to you, which Stevens changed. Stevens called me into the office and said: 'Well, I guess this had to happen sooner or later. I'd like you to write a letter to Walter Martin telling him that we have changed on delegated authority. I have no problem with you differing with what I preached in the past, but it's obvious that there is no problem with delegated authority now. Will you write a letter?' I said, 'Well, I'll write a letter, but you won't like what it says, because I'll have to tell him that there are still problems, and that delegated authority is still being preached.' At this he launched into a session of yelling at me
*In fact, no such action was taken that fall. However, all of the faculty members who opposed the old views had left on their own accord by the following spring semester.
and saying 'You've got to repent. Jim Hoppe* said "There's got to be repentance" and by God there will be,' and he just ripped into me. He didn't seem to understand that two weeks before or so, Bob White, a branch pastor from Vermont, got up in the service and said, 'I don't know why these people have problems with delegated authority. I love delegated authority. I love the power that it gives me,' and the whole place went nuts. Everybody was clapping. And Carl Stevens just smiles and shakes the guy's hand. To me that was a blatant acceptance of the 'delegated authority' position, and admission of his belief in it. Two weeks later he says, 'There are no problems with delegated authority,' and he specifically told me I was deceived for believing there were. These kinds of things characterized what was going on then."
Steve Quinlan relates some of his experiences:
"In the fall of the last semester that I was in Lenox I taught hermeneutics at the Bible school there, and I used Bernard Ramm's Principles of Biblical Interpretation as a text, and I taught a very conservative approach to interpretation, the grammatical-historical approach. In the course of teaching that, we came across all kinds of examples of bad interpretation that Ramm pointed out in his text that we could clearly see were going on in the ministry. This put me in a rather difficult position, because the class would say, 'Well, Carl Stevens says this, and why is it that the text says that?' And I would have to answer them honestly and say, 'Well, in this area I believe Carl Stevens is mistaken.'
"Then we had a barrage from the pulpit of innuendoes and indirect accusations (there were never any names singled out, that's not his style). But it was clear that it was directed my way. Stevens went on week after week about 'intellectualism,' and how there is such a dearth of spirituality in intellectual circles, and how it's intellectual pride to talk about these things.
*A Bible Speaks pastor and International Field Secretary.
"I confronted him directly on this privately in his office and said: 'Are you talking about me when you talk about intellectual pride?' And of course he denied that and said he was talking about principles. This is the out that he always uses, but I know that he was referring to me and so did everybody on campus. People's attitudes toward me changed. I could see that where before they had been responsive to my teaching, now they were skeptical. It was clear that camps were being formed. People who were responding positively to my teaching felt they were being divided from the main fellowship. That was another reason why I left. I didn't want to be the cause of a church split."
Quinlan recalls an event which signaled the defeat of those who were striving to establish a radically new concept of leadership within the organization:
"One of my primary concerns was that Carl Stevens needed to make a public statement to the effect that the doctrines on authority that had been taught were wrong, and now, not only did we need to acknowledge that they were wrong, we needed to unteach them, to re-educate our people in right doctrine. But he refused to make any effort to do that.
"At one point we reached an agreement in which on a date that we had set we would meet on the platform in Lenox during a service, and we would both make a public statement. I was going to say that in certain areas I had been extreme in my criticism, not in the content of my criticism, but in the attitude that I had. (I didn't feel that that was altogether true, but I did feel that I could have been more charitable in certain instances, so I was willing to make that concession.) In return for that statement, he was going to make a statement that he had been wrong in these areas, that we needed to be re-educated in these areas, and that he was willing for that re-education to begin. We also planned to announce that he was going to take a year's leave of absence, and I was going to take a sabbatical to pursue my education.
"I went to the pulpit and met him on the platform expecting to do that thing, and he leaned over to me and said: 'I'm not going to do it tonight. I've talked with a lawyer who told me I'd be
liable to lawsuit if I did such a thing, and so I'm not going to do it.' These were the last words that Carl Stevens ever said to me. I was there for two more weeks and he never spoke to me again. When I left he never said goodbye; not a note or anything."
In Gene Hollick's view,
"Stevens' decision against a clearcut change of position on the authority issue was influenced by branch pastors who favored the old views. After the agreement to make a joint statement with Quinlan was made (in Hollick's presence), Stevens decided to leave for a few days.
He told me that he was going to try to determine exactly how he was going to proceed and how he was going to initiate that thing. He was concerned about what effect it was going to have. Now, when Walter Martin was there, he told Dr. Stevens the difficulty in making the changes would not primarily be with his congregation or with newcomers, but with his branch pastors. And that's exactly where it was. He was fine until they got together with him. I was not privileged to those meetings, but I am positive that his change of mind happened as a result of their influence.
"After Dr. Stevens decided against making his announcement, John Palmer and Mike Graves were present in a meeting with Dr. Stevens and me in which they were declaring that the faculty was teaching false doctrine, etc., etc. It was obvious to me at that point that these two, and possibly certain others, had influenced Carl in his direction. The things they said at that meeting, by innuendo, made this clear. They came off as though I was trying to drive Carl off (which, incidentally, was not the case), and they were there to let me know that there had been no false doctrine taught in the past; there was nothing wrong with the teaching of 'delegated authority.' John Palmer made a statement about the 'extreme value' of this teaching, and on and on he went."
Concerned about the consequences the ministry would suffer from Stevens' decision, Hollick sought to reason with him directly:
"Because it was such a sensitive issue, I took a typewriter home and did the typing and so forth so that it would not be something exposed to anybody, and wrote the letter privately to Dr. Stevens. Instead of treating it that way, before discussing it with me, he had one of the branch pastors read it in his apartment to some 30 people, some of whom were students and a couple of whom were elders in the church. Then I got a call saying the elders wanted to talk to me, and I said, 'Fine.' (There wasn't anything unusual about that.) So I asked Dr. Stevens what they wanted, and he said: 'Oh, they just want to talk to you.' And in the process of talking to me he said something about getting the letter, and I said: 'You don't mean they want to talk to me about that,' and he said 'No, they just want to talk to you.' The fact is, it was just a couple of the elders and several other people who were there to ask me about my letter - they had already seen it. I had just given it to him that morning."
Our support of those who were working to thoroughly reform The Bible Speaks' theology of church leadership is not meant to imply that in every confrontation and debate these people exhibited perfect, attitudes or perfect argumentation. When strong feelings are involved, one side of a dispute will rarely be above reproach in every conceivable way (even among Christians). Nonetheless, we believe that Quinlan, Carter, Hollick, and the others correctly identified the underlying cause of TBS' problems and were pressing for no more change than would be absolutely essential for the situation to be rectified. To reject what these men were attempting to accomplish on the basis of whatever human failings one may be able to detect in them is to commit the ad hominem logical fallacy - to sidestep the real issues by shifting the focus to the personalities involved. This, unfortunately, has been a consistent tactic of many within TBS.
Steve Quinlan perceptively identifies what may he the fundamental issue at stake in this controversy:
"It always has been said from the pulpit that we have to respect the word of God. But when it came right down to it, it wasn't a matter of respecting the word of God as much as it was a matter of respecting Carl Stevens' interpretation of the word of God, which often was not founded in any kind of accepted principles of interpretation.
"My primary area of concern was this unwillingness of Carl Stevens in particular to submit himself to accepted standards of scriptural interpretation. I was greatly concerned about how he handled the word of God from the pulpit, and privately in conversations. What I believe is the most dangerous and destructive aspect of The Bible Speaks (and this is why I left) is that his concept of hermeneutics [scriptural interpretation] is based largely on his own subjective feelings. It appears to me that he has this idea of an anointing of the Holy Spirit, and though this idea is now verbally and officially denied, in practice he interprets Scripture from some sort of a supernatural, personal, direct revelation.
"Publicly and officially this will be denied, because he's very clever and knows how to say the things that will make points with people and avoid problems by saying the accepted thing. Nevertheless, he's not subject to the authority of the word of God; that is, he's not subject to any kind of natural, normal interpretation of the Scriptures. He's not subject to any kind of grammatical and historical interpretation of the Scriptures. He feels free to allegorize at will, apply passages out of context, based solely upon what he feels the Holy Spirit has told him that a particular verse of Scripture means. This was the area that I felt was the most serious error in The Bible Speaks. I believe that the teaching on authority stemmed primarily from this.
"He's convinced himself that he is under the authority of the word of God, but often it is his interpretation of the word of God that he's under, not the orthodox, widely accepted, conservative interpretation of the Scriptures. He feels that he has this divine authority that is directly from God. This goes back to his Wiscasset experience in which he thought he was told that every message would be anointed. Though in recent years this idea of his personal authority and personal anointing and what for a long period amounted to a virtual infallibility for his opinions (even touching areas of sports and music) has been downplayed, the underlying conviction of his authority is still there.
"He is a gifted teacher, but that gift has never been developed and cultivated other than through
his own personal study. To my knowledge he's never been directly trained by a teacher himself. He either has very little knowledge of the principles of biblical interpretation or he has chosen not to apply those principles. From this I believe that the error flows. This is the area that Chuck Carter and I zeroed in on in the last few months that we were with The Bible Speaks. And, when I personally, along with Chuck, asked to speak with Carl Stevens (having a list of Scriptures I felt had been wrongly interpreted and applied from the pulpit), and he refused to see me, that was the direct event that precipitated my leaving."
When Walter Martin was in Lenox in June of 1981, Steve Quinlan and Chuck Carter sought counsel from him on how to handle the difficult situation they faced. Professor Martin advised Carter to present Carl Stevens with an internal analysis which would clearly identify the problem areas and advise specific action to correct them. If Carter's analysis and recommendations were rejected, then it would be necessary to take a new approach and bring the truth of what was going on within the organization before the concerned public.
In the analysis which he submitted to Carl Stevens, Carter did an excellent job of putting his finger right on the heart of The Bible Speaks' problems. Before demonstrating the unbiblical nature of the mid-seventies authority teaching, Carter wrote:
"This report was made necessary because while we have taken some steps to correct the problems, we have never admitted areas in which we were wrong .... We must admit our error - however painful this will be - and express our intention to re-teach the ministry ... I do not believe that it is enough to explain why certain things happened, as we did in the message 'A New Beginning.' Instead, we must face the issues, address them, and admit them as error. If we do this, I believe we will he strengthened as a ministry. I further believe that most of the problems we have had with other ministries will cease. The kind of statement I suggest in this letter is what Dr. Martin spoke about in one of our luncheons with him. It can only help us."
At the conclusion of his analysis Carter wrote: "This report was meant to consider whether or not there is any truth in the criticisms of those we have considered our adversaries. We have concluded that in many cases there were real problems, and
that they ought to be corrected through a public statement of our error. This statement must be specific and admit error - it cannot be general and vague."
If TBS had responded affirmatively to Carter's recommendations, this report would have been written from a markedly different viewpoint. Instead, Stevens commissioned Mario Maston and Gary Labbe to write An Apologetic on the Bible Speaks' Position on Pastoral Authority, which largely sought to refute Carter's criticisms. Stevens, who stated publicly that Maston and Labbe's forthcoming report would invoke repentance from those who had been critical of his position on authority, forwarded a copy to CRI when it was completed.
At this point we will consider some excerpts from Maston and Labbe's apologetic which are representative of the argumentation the paper employs. Maston and Labbe contend:
"In isolated cases, where extreme circumstances prevailed in the local church setting, the significance of rule and submission was emphasized in an attempt to correct the problems at hand. The urgency of the situations necessitated equally urgent approaches from the pulpit which were never intended to be taken as exhaustive doctrinal statements. When removed from the surrounding circumstances; these sermons do indeed appear excessive. However, when analyzed in their proper context and their proper application, they are seen to be no more than corrective exhortations" (p. 14).
In response we must first of all remind the reader that Stevens' messages on authority which we examined earlier in this report were not merely "corrective exhortations." They set forth a systematic theology of church leadership based on the assumption that Moses is a type for the New Testament church leader.
Jim Heinz comments:
"It's said that Baptized Unto a Man was part of a series of messages to a certain group of people in Framingham, Massachusetts, who were coming out of Catholicism and rebelling, and so forth. It's not told that this was the number one message at the time; everyone was supposed to get that tape and listen to it, and if you didn't you were living in sin. So everybody got that tape. The bookstore sold out, and people got together in groups to listen to it. If they were gust dealing with one situation in Framingham, why was it the message of
the week that every branch minister had to hear? Besides that, parts of that message were often preached in other messages."
Also, we must point out that if these messages were justified by the circumstances that surrounded them, then such "exhortations" could be delivered again, should circumstances demand it. We don't believe that even Carl Stevens would want to go on record as saying that he may one day preach these "delegated authority" messages again. Thus, it should be clear that the messages present faulty doctrine, and not merely exhortations precipitated by circumstances.
Maston and Labbe continue:
"It has been charged that Dr. Stevens was wrong to suggest that the New Testament believer should be 'baptized' unto a particular servant of God in the same sense the Israelites were baptized unto Moses. This criticism has been reinforced by references to hermeneutical rules of interpretation and typology as applied to I Corinthians 10:2. The conclusion being that Moses is a type of Christ and not the New Testament leader.
"Indeed this is correct exegesis and would be appropriate if the message was of an expositional nature. However, as we pointed out earlier, the message was one of a series on 'baptisms' and clearly of a topical nature. There is a definite distinction between an expositional and a topical sermon. Expositional preaching is setting forth the truth of a given text. It requires the requisite exegesis of that text. A topical sermon does not concern itself primarily with exposition of a certain text but rather concerns itself with a given topic. Therefore, it does not require the same rigid exegesis of a particular passage but rather a comprehensive overview of the topic drawing from several passages. What It Means To Be Baptized Unto a Man was definitely a topical message on leadership and the individual believer's need to be positively affected by God's leadership in a local assembly (p. 15)."
An obvious question that arises from the above distinction is: if "expositional preaching is setting forth the truth of a text," does that mean that the same text can be treated less truthfully in a topical sermon? As long as Stevens is preaching a "topical sermon," is he free to give a false interpretation of a scriptural passage as a proof for a doctrine on pastoral
authority? That is precisely what he was doing, and it is precisely what Steve Quinlan was referring to on pp. 28-30. When Scripture is interpreted without proper exegesis it is stripped of its authority, for the interpreter becomes the ultimate authority. When doctrines are developed out of this method of interpretation (as the "delegated authority" doctrine was) they are almost bound to be unbiblical.
Maston and Labbe proceed to quote from an assortment of books, and state:
"There are considerable numbers of Christian scholars and authors who substantiate the necessity for authority in the local church. This principle is not the result of misinterpretation of Scripture. Rather, it is a truth clearly taught in the Word and recognized and practiced by virtually every dynamic growing church in America" (p. 17). The issue, however, is not whether there should or shouldn't be pastoral authority in the local church. Thus, it proves nothing to quote scholars and pastors who affirm the need for authority. The issue is that there have been numerous charges of abuse of authority (which has not been the case with most of the men quoted) resulting from a scripturally unsound concept of pastoral authority - one with which almost all of the men in question would heartily disagree. (Perhaps Robert Thieme, one of those cited, would agree, but he is a more controversial teacher than Stevens himself.)
Maston and Labbe then state:
"In summary, our analysis has shown that any seeming excess on the subject of authority in Dr. Stevens' teaching was in actuality, an attempt to address and rectify specific and isolated problems in the local church. When viewed in the context of these grave situations and in the balance of the entirety of the respective teaching, these messages pose no real problems in terms of Scriptural accuracy and sound biblical application" (p. 18).
We find the above statement incredible. Biblically unsound teaching is never justifiable, and TBS leadership consistently refuses to own up to this fact. The messages do pose problems, because they have served as the philosophical justification for a long and widespread series of abuses which have injured scores of people - abuses which the paper (and apparently the leadership) never acknowledges. In their defense of the old authority teachings, the writers evince a lack of ability to even recognize what the real offense is. It is not an excessive emphasis on "authority" that is the deepest problem, but an unbiblical teaching - a false doctrine. Rather than repudiating the old teachings as being grossly unbiblical, they instead attempt to justify them by appealing to circumstance. We hope that the reader can, by now, appreciate why we've been less than elated with Stevens'
professed repentance; if he has repented, his repentance has not included in its scope what we consider to be a foundational problem.
We must also note that by saying contradictory things about the issues of controversy at different times to different people, Stevens has made it very difficult to pin him down. Thus he has created much confusion and many different viewpoints, depending on what an individual heard him say or has experienced with him. At the time he co-wrote the apologetic, Mario Maston was convinced that Stevens executed his authority in a conscientious, responsible manner. After further experience with Stevens, however, he told this writer: "A host of things I've seen over a period of 12 months forced me to come to the conclusion that the right thing for me to do was to get out." After leaving TBS this past summer, Maston issued this statement:
"I no longer endorse the organization of The Bible Speaks World Outreach nor subscribe to the defense of the aforementioned organization advanced in the paper An Apologetic on The Bible Speaks' Position On Pastoral Authority. Furthermore, I reject the assertion made in the introduction to the same paper that both the teaching and implementation of ecclesiastical authority at The Bible Speaks' headquarters in Lenox, Massachusetts is orthodox. Subsequent observations and experience in Lenox compel me to retract this statement."
Chuck Carter and Steve Quinlan represented our last effort to deal with The Bible Speaks in a dialogue framework. When their efforts broke down it became apparent to us that Stevens was not willing to respond positively to our suggestions. This conclusion was reinforced by many instances of what we consider to be breaches of good faith, some already referred to in this report (see page two) and others to be mentioned later.
With just a few exceptions the entire administration that was at Lenox during our dialogue has left the organization over problems with the practices of the leadership. Even Carl Stevens' son Bruce, who was the likely successor to the presidency of TBS, has completely withdrawn from the ministry. One of his friends told this writer: "Bruce Stevens is highly principled. Some of the things he has seen violated what his father had taught him." Furthermore, four branch ministries (Colchester, Essex, England; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Lyman, Maine; and Lake Elsinore, California) have seceded from the organization because of the persistence of controversial ideas and practices, and others that we know of are likely to follow. Ron Kelly, pastor of the Lyman, Maine church, after seeing leadership abuses continue right into mid-1982, took the
following action: "I wrote Pastor a letter and I told him in the letter that I really loved him, and I had for nine years, and I had never betrayed him once. But I just couldn't support him any longer with some of the things that were going on."
Mark Bell comments: "All of us that were in the organization were there because we wanted to see it be successful, we wanted to make it right if there was anything wrong in it. But he just wouldn't allow it. And so, most of those that wanted to see it become healthy left, because we felt it was hopeless. The guy wouldn't change."
How have Stevens and the remaining leaders responded to this mass exodus? Leon Libby observes:
"One telltale sign that the authority trip still exists is that every time someone disagrees with the ministry people will tell him, 'You've been listening to bad birds.' In other words, the minute I disagree, I've been listening to had people. That might be true of some people, but of everybody that's left? The first thing that one pastor told Ron Kelly when he decided to leave was, 'You've been listening to bad birds.' Ron Kelly said, 'I've been walking with the Lord for 25 years, and I feel I have some discernment. I can go to God and the word and get an answer. I don't think I've been listening to bad birds.'"
After resigning from The Bible Speaks, Mario Maston was subjected to an all-too-familiar phenomenon:
"When people leave for conscience' sake, like my wife and I, or Bruce Stevens and his family, we have heard some of the rumors that are being floated around Lenox and elsewhere in order to rationalize the fact that we've left (which is exactly the kind of thing that was done with Bobby Olivadoti, Steve Quinlan, and a multiplicity of other people who've left). I've suddenly heard that my wife threatened to divorce me if I didn't leave, and that our marriage is on the rocks, and this kind of thing, which is completely ludicrous. It's even being said that Bruce Stevens was on the point of a physical breakdown and that's why he had to leave, and he's actually never been in better health. There's this incredible insecurity that causes Carl and certain others there to promote totally false ideas in order to rationalize why the ministry has suffered so many setbacks."
One of the traits that has characterized many who have remained faithful to The Bible Speaks has been a capacity to disregard an overwhelming weight of empirical evidence when it conflicts with something that Carl Stevens has told them. This in itself indicates that the old attitude of absolute loyalty to him as "God's anointed" is still heavily entrenched within the ministry. At first, Mark Bower was one such person, but eventually he determined to find out for himself what the truth was:
"I had been told (mostly by Carl Stevens himself) that every single person that I've talked to who has left The Bible Speaks is either a whoremonger, has a drinking problem, or is selling hot dogs, and so forth. I accepted it at first, because I assumed he wouldn't lie to me. Then I decided that if I'm going to make a judgment about them based on what he said, then I'd better find out what their side of the story is. And when I called them and said: 'This is what Stevens said. I want you to tell me why you left The Bible Speaks,' I found that a lot of the stories fit together, and made a lot of sense in light of things I had experienced."
It sometimes requires a very rude awakening to break the influence that Stevens exerts over his followers to procure absolute allegiance from them. Ron Kelly relates:
"He has a knack of conducting his conversation and his conduct according to the people that he's with. There were a lot of things that some of the other fellows heard in private conversations that I never did. If I had, I would have been quite offended a long time ago.
"You're conditioned to shut off your mind an awful lot by teachings to not judge by sight, to receive through God's man, and to 'not touch God's anointed.' You're so conditioned to receive things from the pulpit it helps you to put into a closet somewhere in your mind warning signals and things you've seen that aren't right. You just ignore it. But when our people were refused the opportunity of being counselors for Billy Graham it was used by the Lord to get me to start thinking.
"There were some other things that lingered in my mind and spirit, that really hurt me, that I couldn't justify - attacks on some of the men
that had left. Pastor made statements like: 'I have files of information on different individuals.' I couldn't understand how he could hold that kind of philosophy, because he'd never taught me that. But those were things that were said in personal conversations. I'd never heard anything like that from the pulpit. I knew what God did with our sin and I couldn't understand why he wanted to retain the information himself. I do now, but I didn't then.
"The Lord began to speak to my heart and I just couldn't stand it. I knew how Jack Daley had been manipulated to get his money, and some of the things that had happened with some of the widows, and it just began to bother me. I couldn't support it. I had to get out."
Although Stevens has modified his public position on church leadership, the manner in which he conducts himself as a leader has changed little. As Mark Bell observes:
"There has been a consistent mentality through all these years. People that challenge him on anything are depicted as conspiratorial against his authority, and no one's supposed to listen to them it sometimes reached the point where if you just questioned things he said, or if you just treated him like a normal person, then you were not honoring the anointed of God."
In spite of Stevens' insistence that he is not authoritarian, when the claim is put to the test by someone who is in a position to do so, an unyieldingly authoritarian attitude is often encountered. Consider the efforts of Steve Quinlan, who, as a gifted Bible teacher and budding theologian, was certainly capable of offering Stevens useful information and constructive criticism:
"My experience has been that there has never been an opportunity to sit down with Carl Stevens and have a frank, mature discussion of any theological issues, including church leadership. It's always: you present your case, he smiles and nods, and then afterwards he reacts against you to others. There is never any kind of simple exchange of ideas. I tried on numerous occasions and it just didn't happen. There's no reasoning, or talking, or even debating with the man.
"If you had anything to say that disagreed with his position, then you were always perceived as attacking him, and you weren't 'one' with his spirit, or his anointing, or the body, or some
such nonsense as that. There was never any opportunity for a free exchange of ideas, so there was really nothing that could be done."
The bottom line, as we see it, is that the only ones who can permanently carry on a successful relationship with Carl Stevens are those who would follow him no matter what he does and no matter where he leads them (and there are many who profess exactly that commitment). Stevens' underlying conviction of his unique anointing will ultimately defile his relationships with those who are striving to be governed first and foremost by biblical authority.
Quinlan identifies what we surmise is likely the case:
"I can't get inside the guy's head, but in my opinion he's never changed his attitude toward leadership. He believes that he is anointed of God with a special ministry, a special vision, a special purpose in life, and anybody who doesn't see that is deluded, and therefore suspect. If they ever publicly say anything about not understanding him or agreeing with him, then they are his enemies."
To what extent is excessive devotion to Carl Stevens present in The Bible Speaks of the 1980s? In Mark Bell's estimation:
"I think that maybe 20% of the people in Lenox and in the rest of the organization are the die-hards who would submit 100% to what Stevens says.
Probably another 50% would agree with the general idea that he's a prophet of God, getting things from God, and we should submit to what he says.
Then there's another group on the fringes who are sincere Christians who haven't been exposed to some of the things that he's taught, and they're just there because of the Bible school, discipleship, or evangelism. That's why it's so difficult to distinguish what is right and what is wrong, because there's a lot of soul-winning and sincere effort to win the lost. But there's all these unhealthy elements at the same time."
The Bible Speaks has established close to 30 branch ministries, the biggest of which are the churches in Finland; South Berwick, Maine; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Springfield, Massachusetts. Are the old ideas of pastoral authority present in the branch ministries? According to Mark Bower:
"The tendency of the people in the New England branch ministries is to exalt Carl Stevens and believe in 'delegated authority.' If you went to every little branch church of The Bible Speaks in
Maine (and there are about 10 of them there), you'll find that the majority of those people were there in South Berwick, or Scarborough, or when it was in the Ramada Inn in Portland, or even the Wiscasset church. Generally, they have not changed their thinking. They remember what they were taught before, and their pastors, when they came, just built on that foundation. So, if you go back to Maine where the ministry started, the percentage of people believing in the old authority ideas will be much higher than if you go to, say, Seattle, Washington, where only a minority will feel that way about Carl Stevens, and the rest will hardly know who he is. The truth of the matter is that the strength of the 'delegated authority' teaching in The Bible Speaks is Carl Stevens himself. The further away you get from Carl Stevens' personality, and his hold on people, the less 'delegated authority' is likely to go over. Also, when people get geographically away from Carl Stevens they have a tendency to start thinking for themselves, and that kills 'delegated authority.'"
Our research has indicated that often, though not always, pastors who were trained with the "delegated authority" concepts will assert them when uprisings, or even legitimate concerns, cause them to feel threatened in their ministries. Many branch pastors, to varying degrees, have repeated a pattern for dealing with problems that they observed at the ministry's headquarters. Pastors will sometimes pull rank and use Scripture to manipulate dissenters into line, while the problems that prompted the dissent are often not dealt with. When problems are dealt with, it is frequently done from the pulpit, where people are humiliated, intimidated, or made to feel guilty.
Former members Richard and Marge Wallis characterize the attitude they believe some of the leaders hold as follows: "When there is something being done wrong in the government [i.e. church leadership], either in teaching, practice, in financial matters, don't repent! Don't confess before the body. Don't deal with these things openly; just mark the people, slander them. Get everyone to believe they are deceived, then we can go on with business as usual."
The following report from Steve and Nella Bailey, former branch church members of five years' standing, is characteristic of many we've received:
"After a while we felt God was telling us that if we don't agree with the ministry, we should go to
the pastors and talk about it. Well, my husband did and Pastor Scott Robinson agreed with him that these things were handled wrongly and should be corrected. But then, in the next messages, we would be preached at as though we were wrong in questioning them. We felt led to remove ourselves from the fellowship of the ministry, so we don't attend services there any more. However, the pastors are spreading more lies about us trying to discredit our testimony so people will not listen or fellowship with us. They say we are a part of a falling away from the 'Body.' When we talked it over with them they agreed with us, but behind our backs they say we are off. It's like they make claims that they all live in love, but in reality they don't give love if you don't agree. They make up lies against you. They talk about soul-winning and putting out tracts, but the people who are leaving the church are not loved. They are talked about and lied about."
One thing that one must always bear in mind when considering The Bible Speaks is the lack of uniformity that exists in their teaching and practice. There are some branch ministries in which the problems discussed in this respect are largely nonexistent, and where "delegated authority" an unknown concept to many of the members. However, the abuses noted in Lenox have been duplicated frequently enough in branch ministries to constitute a loose pattern, and thus make it impossible for us to clear the innocent branch ministries with a statement to the effect that things are different in the branch ministries than they are in Lenox. Those branch ministries which do not practice "delegated authority" must make the unpleasant choice to either sever from Lenox or bear the stigma that many people have come to associate with the name "Bible Speaks."
The influence that Carl Stevens exerts over the branch ministries is also irregular. In some it is almost non-existent; in others it is decisive. Mario Maston says: "He argues that he doesn't have exclusive control over the other churches and it's certainly true that he really doesn't have any control over a lot of them in the day-to-day administration. But there are others where he does, and there are others where the pastor is very much the authority figure in control, such as John Palmer, and he would very much look to Carl for direction."
A recurring experience has been that people will go to Carl Stevens about a particular pastor's teaching and/or practice, and Stevens will tell them that they are right, the pastor needs to be corrected. Soon thereafter, sometimes publicly, Stevens will back up that pastor and his authority, and criticize people who
do not support him. This is the problem that we run into; it's not that Stevens will never say the right thing, it's that he may turn around and say the opposite thing the next day.
Consider the experience of Marty O'Brien:
"In Maine, Bruce Brown and Peter Inchombe were very heavy 'delegated authority' people. I even called Carl Stevens once and told him that it was too much, because they called him their apostle and prophet and that sort of stuff. One day I heard it on the radio and called Carl Stevens and said: 'Pastor, this is too heavy. Even if you are these things, it doesn't have to be broadcast to everybody all over the place.' At the time he agreed with me, but I know now that he then talked to people behind my back and told them that I didn't really know what I was talking about. We thought policy change could happen, but I didn't realize he wasn't being honest with me. It's almost inbred now. The end justifies the means."
Steve Quinlan ran into a similar frustration:
"The pastors in the branch ministries give the clearest indication that the old attitude toward authority continues. The example that I'm most familiar with is John Palmer, who is pastor of the Wilmington, Massachusetts church that I pioneered and pastored for five years. He took over after me. Palmer comes across in no uncertain terms about what he believes. People have actually been asked to leave the fellowship simply because they would not submit to the 'delegated authority' concept.
"I approached Carl Stevens about John Palmer, directly using his name, and said he was excessive in the area of 'delegated authority,' he's hurting the people in his church by lording it over them, he's appointed a whole group of young men as assistant pastors who for the most part are untrained and have no background. (John Palmer himself has no theological training, not even Stevens School of the Bible. But he's got this authority strictly because it's been delegated to him by Carl Stevens, and his assistants have authority because Palmer delegated it to them.) I told Carl Stevens: 'It's a serious problem.' He said to me: 'I'm going to do something about that. I agree that John Palmer is excessive in
authority, and I'm going to speak to him.' But then absolutely nothing was ever done to bridle John Palmer's abuse of authority, and he has been publicly praised as one of the real stalwart branch pastors."
With reference to the fact that this kind of response by Stevens to "delegated authority" in the branch ministries has been repeated on several occasions, Quinlan says:
"Either Carl Stevens is a coward and refuses to face anybody on issues because he's afraid they won't like him anymore, and he's just a victim of the branch pastors (which is hard to believe, because I've been in situations where he has ranted and raved and called people names; in private situations he does not hesitate to lay people out if he doesn't like what they're doing), or, the only other alternative is that he secretly, in his heart of hearts, condones and agrees with these people."
Perhaps Stevens' failure to effectively deal with the continuance of "delegated authority" in some branch ministries is due to the fact that these same branch pastors strongly advocate an exalted view of Stevens' own authority and ministry. Bob Olivadoti says that he was present on several occasions when John Palmer stated from the pulpit (while pointing at Stevens), "I am because he is."
John Palmer is not the only branch pastor who still conducts his ministry according to the "delegated authority" philosophy. Michael Graves has been a strong supporter of the old model of authority. Mark Bell tells us: "Just before I left the ministry Mike Graves was telling me that 'God's people have to have a king.'"
Daniel Lewis, International Field Director, branch pastor, and former Dean of Students at Stevens School of the Bible, has for years exhibited the kind of absolute loyalty that Stevens had demanded in his old "delegated authority" teachings. In April, 1981, when Mark Bell was wavering in his commitment to TBS, Lewis met with Bell in order to quiz him as to his loyalty to Stevens, and also to inquire concerning the loyalty of some of Bell's close friends. Lewis told him that one of these friends had disagreed with Stevens concerning his teaching on women. Said Lewis: "When something is said under an anointing you don't challenge it that way."
A number of branch pastors, in addition to the three cited above, have demonstrated their continuing belief in the principles of "delegated authority." Although we do not wish to delve into the ugly details of some serious abuses perpetrated by
certain branch pastors, we should note that misuse of power, not surprisingly, is almost always accompanied by advocacy of the old ideas of authority.
The Consequences of "Delegated Authority"
So that the reader will understand that it is not merely theoretical differences with The Bible Speaks that have prompted us to write this report, it is necessary that we consider now some of the effects that the "delegated authority" style of leadership has had upon people's lives. Gene Hollick told us: "My concern is what happens to people. I've counseled a good many students while I was there who were seriously affected by that teaching. I know that that teaching isn't good; it isn't right. It is in error."
We know of dozens of former committed members of TBS who have gone (and in many cases continue to go) through severe emotional problems because of the influence of the old teachings. These problems include disorientation, confusion, anger, bitterness, doubt about their relationships with God, and terrible guilt and fears of divine retribution for having left the ministry, or for criticizing Stevens.
One suffering such trauma cogently observed that the emotional difficulties many go through after leaving stem from having surrendered their individual identities to take on a group identity. Not all go through such severe psychological alterations, but for those who entered the ministry without sufficient psychological strength, or strength in Scripture, it was natural for them to respond to the emphasis upon authority and the "corporate body" in such a manner.
Ed Mosher declared: "I know Rom. 8:28, however the overall result of my having been in TBS (10 years) has been really bad. It's been almost two years since we left and my wife still has nightmares about the way Stevens uses his authority." While every former member does not fully share this sentiment, enough people have left TBS with a predominantly negative experience to warrant legitimate concern from the rest of the body of Christ. Patricia Saunders of Bryant Pond, Maine writes:
"My family has suffered deeply from our involvement with The Bible Speaks. I'm still confused a little as to where I stand with the Lord, or if I can ever stand with Him again. Because of the fear tactics they used, I would come home from a service terrified, afraid that if I questioned the local Bible Speaks pastor's teachings God would
know my thoughts and surely punish me for them. My mind was kept in such a state of confusion that I couldn't think clearly. It took me a long time to get up the courage to question anything, I was so confused and wanted so much to do the right thing."
"When I decided to quietly leave the ministry, I received a visit from Pastor Mark Glidden and his right-hand man, Ralph Paine. I had said nothing about the ministry - I just prayed about it, and was led to leave. They came barnstorming into my house and proceeded to try to convince me that I was wrong and that I had been deceived. They accused me of sinning against the Holy Spirit - which was going to put me in Hell. As if that wasn't enough for my already confused state of mind to contend with - if I said anything negative to anyone about the ministry, something terrible would happen to me for sure. The pastor left saying, 'My Bible tells me not to even pray for people like you.' My children were present in the house through all of this. Needless to say, they weren't very impressed with 'God's people.' Some of them haven't felt the same since, and neither have I."
A former member observes: "There has been some honest effort to correct things, but if you have been indoctrinated for 10 years you need to have what you were previously taught specifically denounced." Had TBS taken full responsibility for the devastation created by their past mistakes, we would not have found it necessary to bring all of this information to light in this report.
Leon Libby comments on the havoc that has been wreaked in people's lives, and, the guilt that he has suffered for having played a part in it:
"I know people who've given money, have nothing left, can't get a home any more because of interest rates, were promised a place to live in Lenox forever, and the next thing they know they're paying room and board. You can understand after a while why they're upset.
"One of the things that bothers me now more than anything is the money I helped raise; to know that there was no control on it, and that people in leadership abused it; not just Carl Stevens, but Dan Lewis, who was one of the biggest abusers of
money. At the time that I convinced my mother to give $30,000, Dan Lewis as Treasurer used the general fund to buy himself a new Bronco with a souped up engine, and then replaced that engine with another new engine, and so forth. That's why the ministry was always broke."
We feel that the core moral problem responsible for so much devastation is correctly identified by Ron Kelly as being:
"...the prevalent and permeating philosophy of the end justifying the means, without that being said in so many words, but it's demonstrated in actions so much. If anyone tries to deal with Pastor, that's the way it comes out. It will always be brought out about the souls that are being won, and the growth of the ministry, and all the rest of this stuff. But that doesn't justify taking a widow's money and not providing for her, and then she has to wash bedpans in order to take care of herself.
"I was even sent by Pastor Stevens to talk to a retired jeweler some time ago down in Portsmouth along the same line of getting him to sell his house and give his money to the ministry, and that the ministry would take care of him. But he never went along with it, thank God.
"It's incredible how many people have given a great deal of money, and have now left: Peter and Martha Kraft, Don Prescott, the list goes on and on. Some are so devastated that they haven't even had the heart to get back into church."
Perhaps The Bible Speaks has led a number of people into church, but the organization has also driven quite a few people away from church. Patricia Saunders told this writer: "Here in the South Paris-Norway area of Maine there are a lot of good, decent people who wanted to do the right thing, and their experience with The Bible Speaks has scared them away from any type of church whatsoever. They're just going it on their own." Bob Olivadoti describes how he managed to maintain a personal relationship with the Lord in spite of the "delegated authority" teachings:
"I maintained a spiritual life of some vitality because of my personal relationship with God, but you had to fight to keep it. You had to almost get rebellious. [Some friends] told me Pastor Stevens used to always come to them and say I was
'off' because I would challenge his trip. I was off in his eyes when in reality I was just fighting to keep my own mind, my own opinion, and my own relationship with the Lord, which was one thing I had before I came into The Bible Speaks, and I maintained it when I left.
"The people that are wasted when they come out of TBS are most often the people who didn't have a walk with the Lord when they came in. They might have been saved in there, or been a backslidden Christian and been revived in The Bible Speaks, but that's all they had, and then they come out. And they're not coming out into something they've had and maintained through it. What do they have? And let's face it, without a relationship with the Lord, if you look back over a few years and realize you were duped in something, you're going to be pretty bitter and upset, especially if you sold your house and gave $30,000, $50,000, or $100,000. There's literally dozens of people out there who've sold their homes and everything they owned.
"Then, when they're broke and having a hard time making ends meet, no apologies are given. Instead they'll say: 'Look, God's judging him. He's off. Look at the bad things that are happening to him.' One classic example, preached from the pulpit, was that a guy said something bad about The Bible Speaks and then his kid got run over by a tractor. Another guy was said to have gotten cancer of the tongue. Those were preached to 1,000 people, and he used the Scripture 'Judge not lest you be judged.'" (11)
Because the kind of spirituality that has been bred at The Bible Speaks has so often tended to make people dependent on Stevens, other pastors, and the ministry, many people who leave find it extremely difficult to live the Christian life, outside of the organization. One such individual commented: "The one thing The Bible Speaks never taught me is how to live without The Bible Speaks."
Without what is termed "the preaching of the cross" (i.e. the dictating of exactly what God's will is for body members) former members sometimes fall out of Christian fellowship, unable to function as Christians. Consequently, some people have moved across the country solely to be put back into the old framework of "discipline." As Stevens would put it, these people have not
developed their own "verticals" (individual relationships with God) strongly enough. Although Stevens and others make statements to the effect that believers should have strong "verticals," other things they've taught have inhibited this process from occurring for many people. Mark Bower comments on the claim that there is sufficient emphasis on the "vertical" to check the emphasis on the "horizontal":
"A lot of people say, 'Well, that's the balance.' It's the weirdest balance I've ever heard of. At one point he says to not agree with everything the pastor says is to call God's government a liar (that is, if I don't agree with everything Stevens says, it's equivalent to calling God and His program a lie). I'm supposed to believe everything he says, and yet I'm supposed to have my own relationship with Christ. The outcome of this was shown to me recently when this woman told me that every single person who ever came into The Bible Speaks and had a problem with The Bible Speaks was at fault, not Stevens."
If blind devotion to Stevens can reach the extent that Bower describes above, what does it take to snap a dyed-in-the-wool follower into an objective state of mind? According to Steve Quinlan:
"What sometimes does it is they get burned. They say or do something, it gets to Carl, and it wasn't the right thing, so they either get castigated for it directly, or he runs them down to others and they hear about it. Then they realize: "Wait a minute, this is not altogether right," and that starts the ball rolling."
Ed Mosher recalls the events that produced a change in his thinking:
"Carl called me up and said some things against Steve Quinlan. I let him know that I didn't agree with him, and so he became upset with me. He called Bobby Olivadoti up and said that I was untrustworthy, and he told Bobby that my secretary had written him and told him that I didn't preach the Word, and all this stuff. This conversation gave Bobby further incentive to resign, because he knew how hard I was working. Then I went to Carl and I asked him personally, 'Do you trust me?' and he said, 'You are my most trusted friend on the whole earth. Furthermore, I swear by the angels in heaven and God above, with my hand on
the Bible, that I have never said one evil thing about you in my whole life.' When he said that I knew he wasn't being honest with me, and it kind of popped my whole Bible Speaks bubble, and that was it for me. Then Bobby told Steve what Carl had said about him, and Steve brought it up in conversation to Carl. And Carl called me up and said to me on the phone that he'd repented. He said 'I never said that. But if I did, I repent. So now when Steve Quinlan calls you, you can tell him that I didn't say it, because I've repented from it.'"
The Bible Speaks has had the potential to become a significant force for evangelical Christianity in the eastern United States and throughout the world. However, because of the aberrant authority emphasis of the seventies, as well as their refusal to fully own up to past errors and correct their effects, much of the ministry's strength has been sapped; in some localities, completely nullified. In the words of Leon Libby: "I see from all this how the devil gets into someone that God raises up, that has gifts and can be used, and how the devil works so hard to destroy it. It's caused a big schism in New England, there's no question about it."
A dedicated Bible Speaks member might reply to CRI: "With this report aren't you adding to the difficulties that we are already having in fulfilling our ministry?" However, in our view this report is a necessary incident in a chain of events that TBS has propelled into motion by persisting in the direction that has been chronicled in this report. The mere fact that a group preaches the Gospel does not relieve it from accountability to the rest of the body of Christ. This report is not being directed to the attention of the lost, but to those members of the body of Christ who have been directly or indirectly affected by TBS. Bible Speaks leaders have frequently misrepresented CRI as having given an unqualified endorsement of their ministry. In the meantime, the old ideas of church leadership have never been adequately denounced (and thus many members continue to believe them), certain branch pastors in good standing have been outspoken in their advocacy of "delegated authority," and Stevens, though silent from the pulpit, has continued on several occasions to conduct his ministry as though he has a unique anointing that makes him unchallengeable.
It is our conviction that Christians who have been adversely affected by abusive leadership in TBS, as well as those who could be so affected in the future, deserve to know the truth about the extent to which change has actually taken place in the organization, and where CRI really stands on the issue. Because the
activities of TBS leadership have an impact on the body of Christ (both within and outside of the organization), when abuses are not adequately addressed from within it becomes necessary for believers outside to become involved. This report represents the third step Jesus lays out in Matthew 18:15-17 for dealing with brethren who sin. We do not believe that one can legitimately contend that CRI failed to take the first two steps that Jesus outlines before we determined to "tell it to the church." If The Bible Speaks is unhappy with the effect that this report will have upon their ministry, then they should correct the aberrations that have necessitated it.
Is CRI "Outside of the Family"?
Jim Heinz told this writer: "What is now being said to discredit the report that you're going to come out with is that people went outside of the ministry, or 'outside of the family.' They brought their grievances outside of the family, and they had no business doing that. Stevens never really asked CRI to come in. It was these people who were trying to cause trouble."
First of all, we are not "outside of the family" of Christ, which is the only "family" that counts in this matter. There is nothing wrong with seeking help or arbitration from Christians outside of a particular ministry. What is blatantly unbiblical is to go outside of the body of Christ (i.e., to a court of law) to settle a dispute among Christians (I Cor. 6:1-8), which is precisely the action which Stevens and other pastors have discussed using as a threat to intimidate us from publishing this report. (TBS has warned other Christians who have been publicly critical of their ministry that they will be sued if the criticisms persist.)
Second, Stevens cannot legitimately disassociate himself from the actions of men he delegated to serve as public relations representatives for his ministry. We were contacted by his appointed spokesmen, who asked this writer to come to Lenox at their expense in order to analyze their ministry and make recommendations concerning areas that needed change. (Contrary to what is now being said by TBS representatives, TBS was not coerced by CRI into submitting to an investigation. Bob Olivadoti and Leon Libby, who initiated the dialogue, are willing to testify publicly to this effect.) During that visit I sat in Stevens' office and reviewed with him a list of problem areas I had observed, and he never said anything to indicate that he was surprised at, or did not approve of, the transaction we were engaged in. On the contrary, he responded to everything I said by either defending TBS, trying to explain why certain things had taken place in the ministry, or affirming that corrective action was being or would be taken.
Throughout the long period of dialogue, Stevens cooperated with our requests, and often told Carter, Olivadoti, and the others what to tell us or send us. He came to San Juan Capistrano specifically to meet with Walter Martin, Howard Pepper, and me, and we tape recorded the conversation in which he agreed to go along with suggestions made by Professor Martin.
Leon Libby, who initially invited this writer to come to Lenox, told me recently: "When you were in Lenox we never told you the truth completely. Carl Stevens had me prepare tapes of carefully selected excerpts so you would hear just what we wanted you to hear. After you left, we changed nothing." Former branch pastor Rick Pietlicki was among a group of pastors who were preparing to meet with Walter Martin in Lenox during June of 1981. Pietlicki reports that as they sat around a table at the Bible Speaks' restaurant, Carl Stevens told them: "I'm not going to have this [derogatory term] coming into my ministry and telling me what to do. I'm going to preach the gospel, go into the world, and I'm going to do it my way."
On the other hand, Stevens had no qualms about using Walter Martin's name when he thought it could bolster his own position. On one occasion he told the congregation in Lenox: "You'll see what delegated authority is when Walter Martin comes out and speaks on it." (Walter Martin did come to Lenox to speak on the cults, but the reader can rest assured he was not promoting "delegated authority.")
The value of an outsider making an evaluation of a ministry is that it is much easier for him to be objective. As I told Steve Quinlan: "For me to do the report is good because I don't have any resentment or strong feelings toward Carl Stevens one way or the other. I never have. And if he would have responded positively to the things that you and Chuck were seeking to accomplish, along with Bobby and others before you, we would have been happy to serve as a real ally of The Bible Speaks, clearing things up for them." Quinlan responded: "Right. We know that. Bobby Olivadoti, Chuck Carter, and myself knew that you would have been an ally. And we could make honest statements as far as we were concerned, but we couldn't change Stevens' attitude."
Biblical Principles for Church Leadership
Before we conclude this report it is important that some consideration be given to an alternative view of pastoral authority to that embodied in the "delegated authority" teachings. What qualities should characterize a biblical exercise of leadership in the local church? Before we begin to answer that question we must first address a basic New Testament truth.
In I Tim. 2:5 Paul declares: "There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." The writer to the Hebrews develops this theme at some depth. He sets forth plainly the inestimable privilege made available to the believer through the new covenant: direct access into the fellowship of God with need of no other mediator than Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:19). Under the old covenant, only one man (the high priest) could enter the holiest of holy places but one day each year, and the faithful were restricted by a sacrificial system, laws and ordinances, a temple, and the Aaronic priesthood. The new covenant on the other hand, allows every believer confident access to the throne of grace (at any time or place), to find strength, guidance, and whatever provision he needs (Heb. 4:14-16).
Because through the new covenant the Lord puts His laws into the hearts and minds of all of His people, no one is uniquely privileged to the counsel of God (Heb. 8:10). Under the new covenant there is no need for special "anointed" individuals (like Moses) who, because of their privileged access to God, are able to express God's "thoughts" and "heartbeat" to the people. "And they shall not teach everyone his fellow-citizen, and everyone his brother, saying 'know the Lord,' for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them" (Heb. 8:11).
With this important truth in view, it should be clear that successful New Testament leadership serves the important purpose of directing the people of God to the "throne of grace" where they can learn for themselves how to "receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." An effective pastor leads the flock to an increasing dependence upon the Lord, and a decreasing dependence upon himself.
An important dynamic in spiritual growth is the development of the believer's ability (through study of Scripture and prayer) to determine what the will of God is for his life in areas of conduct and guidance (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:8-10, 17). Scripture makes such determinations a matter of individual conscience: "Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). If the believer is not convinced that he has the freedom to "(examine) the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things [are] so" (Acts 17:11), and, when there is a conflict of interests, "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), he has not yet appropriated a direct relationship to Jesus as his high priest and spiritual head.
Intrinsic to maintaining a vital relationship to Christ as head is the believer's prerogative to follow Christ's will as it is revealed to him personally in Scripture. Though there is an important place for teachers in the body of Christ, the ultimate teacher of the Scriptures for each individual is the Holy Spirit,
lest the role of Christ as mediator be usurped by another man. "And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him" (I John 2:27). For this reason, authority in the local church should never come between a believer and Christ. It should never infringe upon a believer's right to follow Christ as his conscience dictates.
The Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther testifying at the Diet at Worms: "Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments ... I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me and my conscience is bound in the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience". (13)
The Catholic church insisted that to question or challenge the Pope is rebellion against God, since the Pope is supposedly the Vicar of Christ, His "delegated authority." Luther saw that to accept the Pope in such a role would be to bind his conscience to the Pope, rather than Scripture. Any leader who demands unquestioning obedience on the basis of his supposed unique relationship with God is reconstructing the error of Rome, and violating the foundational principle of the Protestant Reformation.
We might also point out that one of the most characteristic features of the cults is that their leaders typically assume the role of mediators between God and men, and demand unquestioning acceptance of their teachings and decisions. This absolute power (which, as the saying goes, "corrupts absolutely") has been directly responsible for the notorious trails of devastation that the cults so often leave behind them. Such systems represent the antithesis of what New Testament Christianity is all about.
Scripture certainly teaches that there is a place and need for authority in the local church. The difference between biblical church authority and abusive authority is that a biblical authority recognizes that the believer's first authority is Scripture, and does not seek to intimidate him from evaluating the leadership's teachings and decisions in the light of Scripture. In fact, the biblical leader encourages his congregation to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21).
The believer, for his part (if he is truly submitted to Christ's authority through Scripture), is going to recognize from Scripture that God has appointed authorities for the local church. Out of submission to God he will also be submissive to
those authorities that have been delegated by God, and he will not be promoting insubordination in the local assembly. However, he does not view his leaders as having absolute authority, but conditional authority, and thus he feels free to question them if they appear to be in conflict with the absolute authority that is in Scripture. (When we speak of "questioning" church authorities we are not condoning a contentious attitude, but a conscientious desire to make certain that what one is participating in is not in conflict with the will of God.)
The difficulty many TBS members have had with correctly distinguishing between the absolute authority of Scripture and the conditional authority of their leadership is due in large measure to Stevens' frequent identification of the New Testament leader with Moses. As the author of the first five books of Scripture and the giver of the law, Moses was invested with an authority over Israel that was comparable to the authority the Bible has for us today.
In the passage Stevens used as his text for What it Means to Be Baptized unto a Man (I Cor. 10:2), every scholar we have consulted takes it for granted that Paul uses Moses as a type of Christ. R.C.H. Lenski writes: "This symbolical baptism united the Israelites to Moses as God's representative to them, the Old Testament mediator in whom was foreshadowed Christ, the New Testament eternal Mediator, Deut. 18:18. The deliverance from the Egyptian bondage through Moses by this symbolical baptism through the cloud' and the sea likewise typifies our deliverance from the bondage of sin and of death through Christ by means of Christian baptism." (14)
Because he felt a need to substantiate that his concept of leadership ("God had different people he wants to line up with different men") is applicable in the New Testament era, Stevens has also made much of the declaration of Paul in I Cor. 11:1. In his internal analysis Chuck Carter puts Paul's imperative in proper perspective:
"What about the passages in which Paul says, 'Be followers of me as I follow Christ'? Careful study of the Greek shows that the word translated as 'follow' means follow my example, not follow me exclusively as a leader. If this were his intent, he would have been contradicting his own dictates against divisiveness earlier in the book where he says, 'Some of you say, I am of Paul, I am of Peter, I am of Apollos, and I am of Christ.' Could we not say the same thing in our case - that we have been divisive by saying 'we are of Stevens'? This passage cannot be interpreted as supporting the delegated authority teaching - or
to ridicule people who say 'I'll follow Christ, not a person or a man.' But Pastor Stevens consistently interprets it in this way, and did so as recently as late May, 1981." (Carter concludes) "... to say 'I am of this man'... is to cause division."
Michael Graves' affirmation that "God's people have to have a king" (which was stated in defense of the "old Bible Speaks" view of authority) reveals a sentiment which is in direct conflict with the attitude the New Testament requires of all who would lead. "But Jesus called (His disciples) to Himself, and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall he your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'" (Matt. 20:25-28). To this we can add the words of Peter: "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you ... shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock" (I Pet. 5:1-3; see also II Cor. 1:24).
There is no question that Scripture grants the New Testament leader authority in terms of directing church affairs, maintaining sound doctrine, correcting those who sin, and taking disciplinary action if these refuse to repent (Heb. 13:17; Rom. 16:17; Tit. 2:15; II Thess. 3:6,14,15). However, the keynote of Jesus and the Apostles' teaching on New Testament leadership is clear: the pastoral ministry is to be marked by a servant's attitude and exemplary character, not by an emphasis on authority and submission. An emphasis on the latter will tend to diminish the fruition of the former, for it will intimidate those under the leader's charge and make him unaccountable.
Where there is no accountability, a leader can rationalize that some questionable thing he is becoming involved in can be justified, and he may never be called on it. As a result, compromise and sin can become fixed in his life, which would seriously stifle his spiritual growth and relationship with God. A person in such a position may continue to engage in a fruitful evangelistic ministry, but that does not mean he has God's sanction upon his life and ministry (God blesses the preaching of the Gospel even when His blessings are not upon the person who is preaching it - Phil. 1:15-18). When one does not repent of little sins, they are not prone to remain little, thus the unaccountable leader stands a much greater chance of gradually going into a gross deception, and, in the process, leading his
most devoted followers astray with him (the most classic example of this has been David "Moses" Berg and his Children of God/Family of Love).
We do not feel it is CRI's place to advocate a particular form of church government (different traditions within orthodoxy have interpreted the Scriptures in a variety of ways on this subject). However, regardless of what church structure a body of believers finally settles on, it is crucial that a provision be made to keep leaders answerable for their actions (in fact, and not just in appearance).
Paul instructed Timothy (who apparently had taken on the responsibility of setting in order the structure and affairs of the church at Ephesus): "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality." Such Greek scholars as A.T. Robertson and Kenneth Wuest confirm that Paul is referring specifically to elders (pastors) who continue to sin.
One thing that has always amazed this writer concerning The Bible Speaks is the partiality with which discipline is executed in the organization. In one case an insignificant TBS pastor or member may confess to a particular sin, and in response he or she will be removed from any position of responsibility, and, though the individual may have repented, he or she may continue to be shunned by the rest of the fellowship. In another case, a leader who has been close to Carl Stevens may he caught in gross sin and never be openly rebuked, or lose his good standing in the ministry. I know of cases where leaders have been found in adultery, or misuse of ministry funds, and if they were dealt with at all, they were transferred from one area of responsibility (where the heat was on) to another responsibility (in a location where the scandal was not known).
The explanation that is usually given for such treatment of scandalous situations is that the individual has repented, and thus, since God has forgiven him, the body also "covers" his sin. Why, TBS members have asked, should leaders not receive the same forgiveness that other believers receive when they repent?
In truth, it is not a matter of treating repentant leaders differently, as far as receiving them into Christian fellowship is concerned. God receives the repentant, and so should we (Luke 17:3-4). However, if someone is in a position of responsibility and has been caught in a serious sin, he needs to he relieved of his responsibility until he has had sufficient time to work
through the necessary restoration in his spiritual life, and in his relationships (e.g., if the sin was adultery, much time and effort will be required for sufficient healing to take place in his marriage).
How many of us have had a besetting sin that we have sincerely (as far as we were concerned) repented of one day, only to fall back into it the next? An individual who has succumbed to serious sin needs a period of time to bring forth consistent "deeds appropriate to repentance" (Acts 26:20).
The space of time in which the leader works out all of the implications of his professed repentance is necessary also for the congregation's sake. An effective pastoral ministry is impossible if the flock is unable to trust their shepherd.
A Call to Repentance
In this report we have chosen not to delve into a lot of the details of scandal and controversy surrounding The Bible Speaks that have been brought to our attention. This is because it is not our desire to destroy the organization or disgrace its leadership. However, to bring things into what we consider to be the proper perspective, we must point out that after having approached The Bible Speaks' problems in the past from a doctrinal standpoint, our conclusion is that the reason past negotiations did not reach a satisfactory conclusion is that the real issue is less doctrinal than it is one of personality.
The root problem with TBS is that Carl Stevens (in spite of whatever good he has accomplished in other respects) has been guilty of serious error (in both teaching and conduct), and though he has made some effort to change, it has not been decisive enough to effectively clear the air. Instead, the theological and social situation that was established in the 1970s continues in a less pronounced form, and is subtly used to perpetuate irresponsible patterns of leadership. Thus, it would be misleading for this report to imply that the entire problem with The Bible Speaks is the "delegated authority" doctrine. The ultimate problem is more an attitude in Carl Stevens, which he has passed on in varying degrees to many of his associates. This attitude has been directly responsible for abuses of power which, in turn, have contributed significantly to TBS' internal turmoil and controversial public image. What is needed now is repentance, accountability, and the structural and practical changes that these would produce.
Leon Libby commented to this writer: "My heart's wish is that Pastor Stevens could say: 'I've done some wrong here and I've made some mistakes, and I want to make it right and get on
with serving the Lord.' I wish that could happen because it would do a lot for Christianity in New England."
Mark Bower adds this thought:
"I know that if Carl Stevens got up and said, 'This is the truth about where I've been,' the people out there love him so much that they'd probably love him more for getting up and saying, 'Hey, I'm sorry. This is what I did wrong.' I don't know anybody in The Bible Speaks that has left or that is still in there that doesn't want to serve God. I know people that are hurt, people that are mad, people that aren't living right with God right now, but I don't know anyone, of those I am close to, who, when it comes right down to it, wouldn't forgive you if you came to them and said, 'I blew it.' I've had to do it myself, as a pastor, for not being sensitive, not coming over, and so forth, and it's always created a closer bond."
There have been occasions in which Carl Stevens acknowledged some of his more serious failings to a few people, and professed a desire to repent, but, for whatever reason, he has not been able to follow through with the actions that a true repentance would require. On one occasion Stevens was approached concerning his need to publicly repent of his past authority abuses, and for allowing people to exalt him as they have. In response, Stevens presented the message "A New Beginning," in which he admitted that he had been excessive in authority in the South Berwick days (although circumstance was appealed to as an explanation in this case also), and apologized to anyone who had been hurt through this authority emphasis.
Afterward, many of Stevens' more dedicated followers were upset that "God's man" had confessed to some sort of error. Then, in Framingham, Massachusetts, Stevens preached about how some people "become sin" for others. This message indicated to those who knew of the circumstances that Stevens was agreeing to being wrong with sort of a "savior's complex" - i.e., he hadn't really been wrong, but if he had to look guilty in order to make some other people happy, he was so like Christ that he would do it.
King Saul expressed deep sorrow for his abuses of his authority, but the abuses continued until his death (I Sam. 2, 4:16-22). The apostle Paul makes it clear that a sorrow that does not result in true repentance has no merit with God: "I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to
the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (II Cor. 7:9-10).
Carl Stevens is not the only one from whom repentance must come. One who was closely involved for some time with Stevens in Lenox observed that at times when Stevens seemed on the verge of recognizing his failings and doing something about them, "People there who want to maintain their positions keep pumping him back up."
In our observation, the Bible Speaks members whose predominant motivation is to serve God will sooner or later experience a conflict which will force them to either work for change from within or leave the organization (many have first attempted the former only to end up doing the latter). On the other hand, the ones who "love the power" that their positions give them will remain loyal to "God's man" through thick and thin, until such a time as God may grant them repentance, and they put Him first. Then they will go through the process of the first group.
These processes could cause The Bible Speaks to go continually downhill morally. The people with integrity, who are seeking to be governed first by Scripture, will eventually be forced to leave, whereas the people who are seeking power will continue to say what Carl Stevens wants them to say, and wind up in all the positions of power.
It is important to recognize that there is a variety of strains within The Bible Speaks. The individuals and ministries that compose The Bible Speaks World Outreach do not represent one, homogeneous whole. Many people (even within the organization) fail to see this clearly, and thus they assume that their particular experience of The Bible Speaks is representative of what the entire ministry is about. In actuality, there are currents within the organization that are quite orthodox and evangelical, and there are other currents that have definite cultic tendencies. The decisive question has always been -- which element within the organization will ultimately prevail?
This dichotomy within the ministry is represented and focused in the person of Carl Stevens himself. Stevens has seemingly always desired that TBS be a strong, evangelical ministry, and that it be recognized as such by other evangelical and fundamentalist leaders and groups. At the same time, he has had this excessive, exaggerated view of his own importance, mission, and authority which has bordered, in some respects, upon the attitude that is typically found in cult leaders.
It's possible that Carl Stevens will respond to increasing pressure from the evangelical community by dropping all concern for his image as an evangelical, relapsing into the emphasis on authority and his anointing, and promoting an internalization in which the ministry focuses upon itself as "the body" to the omission or rejection of believers outside. If he did this, the organization would be strengthened and unified in terms of its support of the leadership, for those who are not absolutely loyal to Stevens would be likely to leave if such a turn of events occurred. However, the more exclusive The Bible Speaks becomes, the less appeal they will have among evangelicals, and Stevens will end up with a small Christian "cult" of hard-core followers, not unlike dozens of obscure sects that CRI receives inquiries about every month. Stevens will have absolute power, but not the large, successful evangelical ministry he has worked for, and the movement will likely degenerate further still from biblical doctrine and practice.
If, on the other hand, Stevens continues to maintain both his concern for his image before conservative Christianity and his insistence upon his own unquestionable authority, he will continue to draw new members by the evangelical image only to ultimately drive them away by the authoritarianism. The tension created by internal turmoil and bad relations with other churches and ministries will continue until Stevens and the organization crumble under the strain of it.
By now it should seem obvious to all reading this (hopefully, even TBS leadership) that the only option open which offers any hope for peace of mind and restoration of the ministry is a genuine, heartfelt repentance. This repentance must be for the benefit of God, and not men. (Previous "repentances," undertaken to please certain people, failed to satisfy those people - how much less could they have satisfied God?) Rationalizations, appeals to circumstance, appeals to the ministry's soul-winning efforts ("the end justifies the means"), and efforts to dodge the real issues by challenging the right of CRI and others to "judge" the ministry - all of these must cease.
If The Bible Speaks World Outreach is to continue, the following actions would be necessary for us to change our position concerning the ministry (we believe these changes would follow from a serious repentance). 1) The fact that the "delegated authority" and "anointing" teachings were biblically false must he declared in the hearing of every TBS member, and each of these members much be educated in a biblical theology of church leadership. 2) The "end justifies the means" ethic must also be thoroughly purged out of the ministry through teaching and corrective discipline. 1) Structural changes must be made to ensure that all leaders within the organization (including Stevens) will be held accountable for their conduct and teaching.
4) Churches outside of Lenox that desire to bear the name "Bible Speaks" must be strictly forbidden to teach or practice "delegated authority." 5) All leaders who have abused their positions of authority must be relieved of those positions until such a time as their repentance and recovery have been amply demonstrated.
In the event that Lenox refuses to take the actions recommended above, the individual members of The Bible Speaks will have to determine if they agree with the direction the leadership is taking the ministry. If not, they will also have to determine if they can continue to participate in the organization in good conscience. They will certainly not be the first people to come to this crossroads. Ron Kelly recounts his experience: "With me it wasn't a matter of mental choice, it was a matter of God convicting my spirit. When I obeyed, it was such an emotional thing, and I feel God was doing a real purging in my affections - getting them centered back on Christ, instead of on Pastor."
We do not mean to imply that God would lead every individual to take the same action that Ron Kelly did, for we do not presume to know the counsels of God for so many lives. We do mean to suggest, however, that no matter how much emotional energy, money, social life, and future one has invested in a particular organization or cause, if obedience to God is the individual's reason for withdrawing from it, he or she can be assured of being honored and blessed by God in the long run.
As an outside organization, our relationship with The Bible Speaks has been historically unique. For us, the compilation of this report has, in itself, been a matter of obedience to God; we would much prefer to spend our time researching and evangelizing non-Christian cults. And, if we were determined to expend our energies investigating a Christian group, we could have found worse cases of aberrant theology and practice than that which we have encountered in The Bible Speaks. However, it seems clear to us that we have been invited and placed in the center of the TBS controversy for a purpose, and through this report we pray that that purpose is being effectively served. Perhaps it is because so many within the organization truly do care about pleasing God that He has gone to the extent of raising people up to tell them "the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15).
1. Copies of The Bible Speaks compilation of quotes from our report, entitled Excerpts from "An Assessment of The Bible Speaks World Outreach" may he obtained from CRT, along with the entire report itself, upon request.
2. See Howard Snyder's A Problem of Wineskins, InterVarsity Press.
3. The Bible Speaks Book of Miracles, The Bible Speaks World Outreach, p. 35.
4. Ibid., p. 4.
5. Ibid., p. 3.
6. Meditations From the Throne, Pastor Carl Stevens, The Bible Speaks World Outreach. (From "About the Author," by Dean Gary Baril).
7. Trusting in the Truth, Pastor Carl Stevens, The Bible Speaks World Outreach. (From "About the Author," by Pastor Scott Robinson.)
8. A brief outline of some of the problem areas in Dr. Thieme's teaching, and some additional information on his church, may be obtained upon request from CRI.
9. 2 Kings 3:22.
10. Stevens frequently contrasted himself with Moses, intimating that those who criticize him might suffer a similar judgment to that which Miriam suffered for criticizing Moses. However, the analogy breaks down when we contrast the response of Moses to his critics with that of Stevens to his. When Miriam was inflicted with leprosy we read that Moses (who was "very humble") "cried out to the LORD, saying, 'Oh God, heal her, I pray'" (Num. 12:3,13). On the other hand, former leaders Bob Olivadoti, Steve Quinlan, and Ed Mosher all testify that they were present in Stevens' office at South Berwick in 1975 when Stevens led a group of about twenty people in solemn prayer to commit a man named Ed Chute to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. Chute had been guilty of none of the offenses listed by Paul in I Cor. 5 as grounds for such a drastic action. He had simply been outspokenly critical of Stevens' teaching and ministry.
11. In the taped message Presumption Vs. Speaking to the Rock Carl Stevens said: "If you have a close friend that evaluates anybody in delegated authority I'll guarantee you that if it's done with any consistency you'll be weak and sick and die in the future months ... don't you say a sentence, not a sentence, not a line, don't presume or you'll die in the future months."
12. Humility of Submission (tape), Carl Stevens, The Bible Speaks World Outreach.
13. History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3. Phillip Schaff, Kregel, p. 139.
14. The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians, Augsburg Publishing House, p. 391.