Calvary Chapel History and Beliefs
By: Larry Taylor, Calvary Chapel
Calvary Chapel began in the late 1960's as a small non-denominational church of 25 members pastored by Chuck Smith. As we approach the turn of the century, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa is home to some 30,000 believers, The Word for Today publishes Bible study books and tapes all over the world, KWVE broadcasts God's Word to all of Southern California, and Calvary Chapel's Bible College provides Bible education to thousands at its home campus in Twin Peaks, California and at over 20 extension campuses world wide.
Because of its size and influence, many Christians have asked exactly what Calvary Chapel believes, what are its distinctives, what sets it apart from other Christian groups. At Calvary Chapel, we have always been hesitant to try and answer those questions, not because we are unsure of our beliefs, but because we are cautious to avoid division within the Body of Christ.
When we move away from the essential doctrines to those that are less essential we risk setting barriers up in the church, something we at Calvary Chapel have no desire to do. Still, Calvary Chapel is distinct from denominational churches and other Protestant groups and people want to know what those distinctions are. That is the purpose of this little booklet.
It is not our purpose to cause division or discord in the Body of Christ, conversely, we long for unity among God's people of all persuasions, and we allow for a great deal of flexibility even within our own ranks. Calvary Chapel pastors are not clones who all believe exactly the same thing. Still, there are distinctives that make Calvary Chapel unique and which define our mission.
In a broad general sense, Calvary Chapel is the middle ground between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism in modern Protestant theology. In fact, we believe that this is at least part of the reason why God has raised up this ministry.
Fundamentalism is that portion of Protestantism which holds to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures, believing that they are divinely inspired and inerrant. Hence, the "fundamentals" of the faith are emphasized. Although the modem news media and the liberal church scorn fundamentalists as backwards and stupid, the truth is that fundamentalism has preserved the integrity of God's Word and held on to the essential doctrines of the orthodox faith.
Pentecostalism as a modern movement grew out of the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century, and spawned denominations that emphasize the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual and Scriptural gifts of the Spirit which had fallen dormant in the main line churches. Also criticized by the liberal church and news media as being emotionally driven, Pentecostalism restored to the church the importance of gifts of the Spirit and the power of God for the believer today.
Over the years, however, fundamentalism, while it clung to the integrity of God's Word, tended to become rigid, legalistic, and unaccepting of spiritual gifts. Similarly, Pentecostalism became enthusiastic and emotional at the expense of the teaching of God's Word.
Calvary Chapel is the balance between the two. At Calvary Chapel we believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible, and we encourage their exercise, but always decently and in order, and with the primary emphasis on the Word of God which we look to as our primary rule of faith.
To quote Pastor Chuck Smith: "We believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Scriptures, and that they are valid for today if they are exercised within the Scriptural guidelines. We as believers are to covet the best gifts, seeking to exercise them in love that the whole Body of Christ might be edified. We believe that love is more important than the most spectacular gifts, and without this love all exercise of spiritual gifts is worthless."
Because of this balance, Calvary Chapel services are designed to be centered around the verse by verse teaching of God's Word, and special "after glow" services are provided where the gifts of the Holy Spirit can operate freely under the leadership of mature Christians. Many Pentecostals think Calvary Chapel is not emotional enough, and many fundamentalists think Calvary Chapel is too emotional. That balance is indication, in my opinion, that we are right where God wants us to be.
Calvary Chapel also differs from most mainline churches in its style of church government. Most denominational churches maintain either a congregational form of church government, a Presbyterian form, or an Episcopal form of running their churches. These three terms should not be confused with the denominations that bear the same names because other churches of different names share the same styles of government.
The congregational form of church government is an American invention and appeals to our American sense of democracy. Basically, the congregation as a whole makes all decisions in these churches by voting on matters of importance and appointing committees from its ranks to run the daily operation of the church. Most Congregational, Baptist, Pentecostal, Brethren, and non-denominational churches are organized in this fashion. The congregation votes on hiring a pastor, votes on how to spend the money, and on anything else of importance. Although democratic people like the idea, congregational forms of church government often wind up at best causing the pastor to be directed by the sheep he is supposed to lead, and at worst reducing the pastor to a hireling.
The Episcopal form of church government, used by Episcopalian, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist churches (to name a few) is controlled by a church hierarchy which may have differing names. Basically, there is a bishop, or someone of similar stature if called by a different name, who oversees the churches, appoints pastors to pulpits, sets policy, and guides the vision of the local congregations. Unfortunately, this style of government, which grew out of European monarchies, leaves little freedom for the local pastor or congregation to follow the leading of the Spirit.
The Presbyterian form of church government, which is typical in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, puts the decisions of church polity in the hands of a select group of elders (the "presbytery") who are appointed in various different ways, depending on the church. These elders are over the pastor, who in turn is over the congregation. The problem here too is that this system puts the God-appointed leader, the pastor, under some of those he is supposed to lead.
Calvary Chapels are organized differently. Church government at Calvary Chapel is very simple, not a complex bureaucracy, committees and sub-committees are essentially non-existent. Basically, at Calvary Chapel we believe that the pastor is responsible for the church, responsible to hear from God, and responsible to feed and love His people faithfully. Elders are appointed in the larger churches to help the pastor care for the spiritual needs of the congregation, as are deacons to help the pastor care for the material needs of the church.
In addition, our churches have church boards as required by most states which vary in size depending on the size of the church, and which usually are made up of mature Christian businessmen who can advise the pastor with respect to the business operations and decisions of the church such as property management and investments. At Calvary Chapel, church organization is de-emphasized, and only the organization that is needed to run the church is instituted. The pastor guides the church as he is lead by the Holy Spirit, and we trust God to put pastors where He wants them to be.
At Calvary Chapel we believe in all the fundamental doctrines of the evangelical Protestant church. For example, we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, that the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is the inspired, infallible Word of God.
We believe that God is eternally existent in three separate persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe that God the father is the personal, transcendent, and sovereign creator of all things.
We believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, provided for the atonement of our sins by His vicarious death on the Cross, was bodily resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit, ascended back to the right hand of God the father, and ever lives to make intercession for us.
After He ascended to Heaven, Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit on the believers in Jerusalem, enabling them to fulfill His command to preach the Gospel to the entire world, an obligation shared by all believers today.
We believe that all people are by nature separated from God and responsible for their own sin, but that salvation, redemption, and forgiveness of sin are freely offered to all by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When a person repents of sin and accepts Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord, trusting Him to save, that person is immediately born again and sealed by the Holy Spirit, all his/her sins are forgiven, and that person becomes a child of God, destined to spend eternity with the Lord.
As we previously mentioned, we believe in the proper Scriptural exercise of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, the greatest gift of all being God's love.
At Calvary Chapel, we await the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. Calvary Chapel is strongly committed to a belief that the church will be raptured before the seven year tribulation period described in Revelation chapters 6 through 18. We recognize that other believers hold a different view, but this is the way we see the Scripture's teaching on this subject.
We believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ with His saints to rule on the earth will be personal, pre-millennial, and visible. This motivates us to heartfelt worship, committed service, diligent study of God's Word, regular fellowship with other Christians, and participation in both adult baptism by immersion and in Holy Communion.
Calvary Chapel rejects the teaching of "amillennialism" which spiritualizes Scripture and denies the literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth as described in Revelation chapter 20.
WHAT WE DO NOT BELIEVE
At Calvary Chapel, we reject some popular doctrines of some Christian groups because we believe them to be in error Scripturally. This does not mean that we will not fellowship with those holding these views, it simply means that such views are outside the boundaries of what constitutes a Calvary Chapel church.
For example, we reject, as we have already mentioned, "amillennialism", post-millennialism, as well as a mid or post-tribulation rapture view. At Calvary Chapel, we are strongly pre-millennialists and pre-tribulation rapturists.
We also reject the belief, held by some Pentecostals and charismatics, that Christians can be demon possessed. The Scripture says "greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world" which makes no sense if a believer can be simultaneously indwelt by both the Holy Spirit and evil spirits. Christians can be attacked by demons, but they cannot be possessed or controlled by them.
In addition, we reject "5-point Calvinism". For a deeper understanding of what Calvinism is, see my book Calvinism versus Arminianism, but for our purposes here, suffice it to say that Calvary Chapel rejects two of the five points of five point Calvinism. First, Calvinism teaches that Jesus' atonement on the Cross was limited, that is, that He died only for a chosen group, His "elect", not for the sins of the entire world. At Calvary Chapel, we believe that Jesus died on the Cross for all the sins of all people, and that anyone who wants to can accept Him as Lord and savior and be born again.
Secondly, we reject the Calvinistic teaching called "irresistible grace", which is the belief that man cannot, even if he wants to, resist the wooing and calling of God to salvation. Instead, at Calvary Chapel we believe that man has a free will and he can resist the call of God if he chooses to do so. Therefore, those who hold to five point Calvinism are outside of the borders of what defines Calvary Chapel. [Etc.]
In 1965 Chuck Smith took over a congregation of 25 people, located at Greenville Street and Sunflower Avenue, which had contemplated disbanding before he arrived.
Today, that "little country church on the edge of town" has become a 20-acre campus at 3800 S. Fairview Road, on the southern edge of Santa Ana. More than 35,000 people attend its weekly services, Bible classes, home ministries, fellowship groups in various languages, and other activities. It also operates Maranatha Music, a grammar school and a high school.
Smith has sent out about 650 men to start other Calvary Chapels in the United States and another 134 worldwide. The annual Harvest Crusade revivals were bankrolled by Calvary Chapel until it became a nonprofit ministry. It has drawn more than 1.2 million seekers since 1990.
"When you look at the miraculous transformation, it can only be the work of Christ, our lord and savior," said Robert Haag, missions pastor at Calvary. He spoke on behalf of Smith, who was traveling in Israel at the time. "God has empowered us to spread the biblical gospel that Jesus is the only way to salvation. No ifs or buts about it."
[Ed. note: Success doesn't prove YAHWEH is behind a ministry or assembly. If Haag is correct it means the... Catholic Church, Watchtower Society, Moonies, Hara Krishnas, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Babylonian Talmudic Judaism, etc. are of YAHWEH. That is utter nonsense. You can determine whether or not YAHWEH is behind a ministry or assembly is if it operates according to His word.]
Such unabashed exclusivity has helped fuel modern evangelicalism's meteoric rise in the United States. Evangelicals and [members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] make up the fastest-growing segments of Christianity in the world. While accurate numbers are hard to come by, much of evangelicalism's success during the past half-century has come at the expense of... Catholicism and mainline Protestantism.
The prosperity of evangelicals has come at a cost. There is a good deal of infighting over who's an evangelical and who isn't. The turmoil has led some to wonder if evangelicals can survive their own success.
"It's a dilemma," said Robert Johnston, professor of theology and contemporary culture at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. Fuller, the world's largest nondenominational seminary, was established in 1947 as the beacon of evangelical scholarship.
"There's an umbrella set of beliefs that unites evangelicals," said Johnston, who co-wrote "The Varieties of American Evangelicalism." "But when the term includes certain Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Adventists, fundamentalists, Anabaptists, pentecostals and even charismatic Catholics ... When you lump all those groups and more into one category, there's great room for conflict."
Part of the debate stems from evangelicalism's rebellious spirit. The movement is leery of anything institutional. Its decentralized structure explains the proliferation of independent entities in Orange County such as Calvary Chapel, Eastside Christian Church, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Saddleback Community Church and Mariner's South Coast.
The independence of evangelical churches tends to generate friction. "It's like a family with dozens of siblings. They're bound to quarrel," Johnston explained. "You have one group accusing another of heresy. You have charges of some leader distorting biblical interpretation."
Johnston noted that all evangelicals hold to three fundamental beliefs:
Personal conversion to Christianity: The term "born-again Christian" describes people whohave consciously accepted Jesus as their personal lord and savior. In addition, Holy Spirit movements, including pentecostals and charismatics, emphasize an intense experience of God. Their churches practice speaking in tongues and faith healing.
Biblical authority: Scriptures are the inspired word of Christ. The Bible is the first and final source of authority on all matters of faith and daily living. Biblical interpretation among evangelicals runs the gamut, from literal translations to paraphrased versions.
Evangelizing: The word "evangelical" comes from the Greek "euangelion," which means"good news." Evangelicals believe it's their God-given mission to convert non-Christians and save them from damnation in the afterlife. Their "good news" is that Jesus and only Jesus is the way to the Father.
Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa has built a down-to-earth worship style on evangelicalism's three-fold foundation. Its sanctuary features no icons except a dove at the altar and on Sunday, few of the 7,500 worshipers who regularly fill the pews during its three services wear coats and ties.
Worshipers sing praise songs with some raising their hands and then they listen to a sermon. "Chuck teaches that Jesus speaks to us through the Bible," Haag said. "Nothing should distract us from God's message. ... It's a message that not even time has been able to change." (OC Register, 3-07-98, www)
Evangelicalism was started with the goal of saving the world, but it helped usher in the apostasy that we are living in. The supposed success of big named evangelical preachers like Billy Sunday, Dwight Moody, R.A. Torrey, Charles Fuller, and Billy Graham sucked thousands of bishops into their movement. They saw some success and thought their efforts would bring world wide revival. This revival movement has been a major cause of the apostasy we are living in.
Their limited success led them to believe nothing could stop them. They rejected the clear teaching of the Scriptures that just prior to the Second Advent of YAHSHUA there would be the apostasy (2 Thes. 2.3; 2 Tim. 4.3,4). They propagated the idea that there would be a world wide revival prior to the Lord's return and ignored everything except evangelism. Their arrogance ushered in a time of great ignorance of the Scriptures among believers.
The bishops (pastors) that joined the revival crusade neglected discipleship and left the people they saved in a permanent state of infancy. Few bishops taught anything more than the basic doctrines and they preached mostly salvation messages. The only ones who grew in knowledge and faith were men who sought to be bishops.
This situation has not changed since the first days of the revival movement and it never will. It is too easy for bishops to preach boring sermons and do little else. It is much easier to do that than to personally teach the Scriptures to every member of their flock (I Tim. 4:6,11,13-16; 5:17; 6:17-19), exhort them (2 Tim. 4:2; Titos 1:9; 2:15), watch over them (Ibriy-Heb. 13.17; I Keph 5.1), enable them to exercise their gifts for the common good (Rom. 12:6; I Kor. 12:7), train them to be able to "be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks" them "to give the reason for the hope that" they "have" (I Keph 3:15), teach them to obey civil authorities, do good deeds and not slander anyone or be contentious (Tit. 3:1,2,14), train young men to be bishops (2 Tim. 2:2; 3:16,17), and to refute and correct those who contradict their teaching (2 Tim. 2:25; 3:16,17; 4:2; Tit. 1:9,13; 2:15) or continue in sin (I Tim. 5:20).
The founders of the pentecostal/charismatic movement also thought they would save the world through the power of the HOLY SPIRIT and they rejected the clear teaching that there would be a great apostasy among true believers in the last days. They perverted the Gospel teaching people that unless they had a supernatural experience they were not born from above or were second class believers.
Virtually everyone in that movement is convinced that their experiences prove they have been born from above. They focus on experience and neglect the study of the Scriptures which is vital to spiritual growth (Acts 17.11). Their primary goal is to get high on the "supernatural" and tell others they can have the same experience.
In some of the most corrupt branches of the pentecostal/ charismatic movement, salvation through "Jesus Christ" is secondary. The churches embracing the latest charismatic fads--laughing, barking, growling, shaking--spend most of their time putting on carnival style shows and neglect Bible teaching altogether.
Chuck Smith saw the aberrations emanating out of the charismatic movement and backed away from the practice of exercising the sign gifts in public services. He no longer allows any sign gift to be used in a worship/teaching service and he put an end to the use them in all church services.
I applaud him for this, but he has a long way to go. He needs to concentrate on teaching small groups and back away from preaching to large audiences. He knows this, but if he were to do this he would lose most of his flock and his financial support. I don't think he or any bishop of a mega-church has the courage to do what is right and forget about being famous and wealthy.
Had he concentrated on discipleship rather than evangelism he would have started a true world wide revival and his disciples would have led millions to the Lord. Instead he went the way of the revivalists and raised up hundreds of disciples who have led millions to believe they are saved when they are not.
Unfortunately, the love of fame and money motivates bishops of most assemblies no matter the size. They think bigger is better and do not realize their top priority should be the spiritual welfare of their flock.
Most of the Reformed assemblies have stayed with teaching the Scriptures and have not been swept away with the revival movement, yet some Reformed bishops have fallen prey to revivalism and the mega-church syndrome.
The charismatic/pentecostal movement is another major cause of the apostasy we are living in. The revivalists of all persuasions are the primary cause of the apostasy of the last days and few of the people in those movements are truly born from above. I do not say this lightly. It is based on my experience in both groups. I have met only a handful of men and women among the thousands I have known that had any desire to study the Scriptures and fewer still who actually knew more than the elementary teachings of the faith. Only a handful have been able to share a testimony that showed that understood salvation and had trusted YAHSHUA of Nazareth to save them.
There is no way to reverse the apostasy, but every believer who is aware of this has the duty to warn others and encourage them to study the Scriptures. Since few bishops will take the time to teach the flock it is up to those who know the Word to disciple people one-on-one and the few who are qualified should start local assemblies.
Religion and History
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