"Greater Grace" Influence In Nashville?
By Tom Forehand
Carl Stevens' ministry, Greater Grace World Outreach in Maryland, is hundreds of miles away from Middle Tennessee.
Yet, we wonder how much of his influence is reaching the Nashville area?
Who is Rev. Carl H. Stevens, Jr.?
On the cover of New England Magazine (November l987) is the small title: "$6,00,000 for God: The Bilking of a Gullible Heiress."
The article inside, by Bob Trebilcock, begins by stating:
"Blind Faith -The full, frightening story of Pastor Carl Stevens and heiress Betsy Dovydenas¾and how, in the name of God, he bilked her for more than six million dollars." (Ibid. p. 49)
In l987 Carl Stevens was guiding The Bible Speaks church in Lennox, Massachusetts when Mrs. Dovydenas sued for the return of her massive donations. Her family had previously spent $50,000 in a successful effort to have "Betsy" deprogrammed and thus removed from Stevens' influence. (Ibid. p. 116)
"Betsy" won the law suit and was eventually awarded the return of most of the $6 million which she had "donated" to Pastor Stevens' ministry.
During this legal battle, the court stated: "The Church [Bible Speaks] exercised undue influence upon the Claimant [Betsy], not only because of the extent of Stevens' dominion over the Claimant, but only because of the various unfair and improper mean which he used in gaining ascendency over her" (pp. 39-40, transcript of United States Bankruptcy Court District of Massachusetts. Signed by James Queenan, Jr. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge - May l9, l987).
On June 2, l987, Stevens "tendered his resignation at a private meeting of Bible Speaks leaders and announced that he was moving Baltimore. A few days later, when Judge Queenan appointed a trustee to oversee the church's reorganization under chapter 11, the church announced it would shut its doors" (Trebilcock, p. 119)
Although, Steven's has started up again in Maryland, we have reason to believe that some of his influence is spreading as far south as Tennessee. Because of Stevens' controversial teachings about obedience to one's pastor ("Shepherding"), we want to remind Christians of two Biblical principles:
A. Christians have the responsibility to honor, respect and obey their pastors (Hebrews 13:17)
B. Christians also have the responsibility to mak up their own minds as to how, when and where they serve God (l John 2:27). Believers also have direct enlightenment by the Spirit of God to make personal decisions which are not directly specified in scripture.
These two biblical principles work to balance the pastor-pew relationship and to keep it in proper alignment. It should be loudly affirmed that "all Christians" have this anointing from God and not just a few or even just one.
"Humble Beginnings" Carl Stevens, now in his sixties was a baker who became a Baptist pastor in Montsweag, Maine in the early l960's. Stevens was perceived to be a "humble man, led by God" who soon developed radio and Bible school ministries (Trebilcock, p. 52).
Stevens, a man who inspires his followers to Bible study as well as missionary work, within a decde has quickly become a controversial fgure in small-time American religion.
"A Divine Calling And A Doctor's Degree?" An early publication by Stevens, The Bible Speaks Book of Miracles, claims that in the early l960's "God called [Pastor Stevens] one day to the back of the woods near a lake. There the Lord Jesus baptized him with what Pastor describes as liquid waves of love." In addition "God" promised Carl several things. Two of which were that "every message he would preach from then on" would be anointed and that Stevens "would build a church that the gates of hell could not prevail against" (Ibid. p. 36).
According to investigative writer Bob Trebilcock, in l976, Stevens purchasedhis "Dr.'s" degree for $160 from Clarksville School of Theology ("a Tennessee diploma mill since put out of business by [the] state's attorney general" - Trebilcock, p. 54). "Delegated Authority"
In l972, the church pastored by Stevens was burned to the ground. Months later, because of angry churchmen, "Stevens" would find himself being "lowered by his belt to the ground and spirited" to safety by several confidants. Afterwards, members loyal to the Pastor soon followed and learned from a new Stevens doctrine called "delegated authority." This doctrine teaches "that in every generatio, God assigned power to a select few who were above reproach. Some called Stevens the apostle, and his parishioners were admonished to serve him and humble themselves before him. The system permeated church life" (Ibid. p. 52).
"Rejection By A Billy Graham Crusade" "The Billy Graham organization refused to allow Bible Speaks members to work as counsellors in its New England crusades" (Ibid. p. 54).
In l983, Walter Martin's ministry, Christian Research Institute, completed its seeral-year study on Bible Speaks. The report, under the direction of Elliot Miller, concluded in part concerning Stevens:
"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."(CRI Report p. 58).
The CRI Report also made recommendations to The Bible Speaks leadership. One of which was: "The fact that the 'delegated authority' and 'anointing' teachings were biblically false must be declared in the hearing of every TBS member, and each of these members must be educated in a biblical theology of church leadership" (Ibid. p. 59)
CRI currently stands by its decade-old, sixty-two page report and has informed the Tennessee Chapter of Watchman Fellowship that it seems little has changed for the "better" since the early l980's.