What is Calvary Chapel anyway?

With all of the hub-bub being raised online at SimpleMindedPreacher and Phoenix Preacher regarding the various observed problems with the Calvary Chapel movement and individual fellowships, the arguments for and against the reality of these problems, and further discussion as to what can be done (if anything) about these problems, it seems to me that something that would be tremendously helpful in coming to a resolution for most of these things would be a definitive answer to this question; what is Calvary Chapel anyway?

DISCLAIMER – I love the historical CC movement. I love the philosophy of ministry and the heart behind The Distinctives. This writing isn’t a criticism in any way. It’s a request for help from a pastor on the front lines of a tiny fellowship that wants to see God move powerfully. My loyalty to CC is given by choice. In my heart and mind CC has earned it, despite some nastiness that I still wonder about. To that end, CC is going to go through some transition in the hear future. My desire isn’t to try and prop up a monolithic organization but to sustain a living, growing, and active community. I believe the leadership of CC has my best interest at heart, and the interests of the body of Christ. It is in this light that I ask the question;

What is Calvary Chapel anyway?

It’s no easy question. I’ve been seriously thinking about it for a few days now and I don’t know that I have a solid answer. I thought I knew. There was a time when I could whip out the answer. Now, as I chew on it, it seems that the answer changes depending on the context in which one asks it.

  • What is CC conceptually/organizationally? A network of pastors of independent fellowships. But even that is too simplistic of an answer.
  • What style of ministry/church is it? Depends on which one you visit.
  • What is it when it comes to disciplining an errant pastor? Depends on his errant-ness, who the regional guy is, and some would argue the errant pastor’s status and influence. (new word; errant-ness)
  • What is it when one of the pastors adopts a style that is closer to churches whose theology is messed up but connects with the community? Again, depends on his errant-ness, who the regional guy is, and some would argue this pastor’s status and influence.
  • Who decides its doctrine and which theological perspectives it is for and against and why? Chuck Smith.
  • How important are The Distinctives when there really aren’t any CCs that I know of (including Costa Mesa) that stick to 100% of them? Good question.
  • What does it benefit to affiliate? Depends. What are you looking for?

The list could go on and, indeed, it does in the blogosphere.

There are also many variables to this question. Who you ask, for example. Even that can have many variables in itself. When did they affiliate? Were they a plant, if so, from where? Where is the church geographically? How big is it? How old are they?

Another variables to the question could be when are you talking about. When I first had a grasp on what CC was back at CCBC in 1993, my understanding was that CC was this; to be a CC means that you are an outreach fellowship, an extension of the ministry at Costa Mesa. What you did reflected on CCCM and Chuck Smith. Your teaching, your theology, your processes, your style (to a certain degree) was modeled after CCCM. You were essentially a little Costa Mesa. You were accountable to CCOF (which I think was a pretty new thing at the time, maybe a few years old, not sure). If there was a problem, you would be confronted and appropriate steps would be taken. That’s what I remember being taught anyway. Whether or not that actually reflected reality is another discussion.

Fast-forward 15 years (unholy cow time flies!). The first time I tried to affiliate my application was turned down because someone else in my town had beaten me to the punch by three weeks and we were to close together geographically. Since then I stepped into the gap at another CC that needed a new pastor. My understanding now is that I am totally separate from Costa Mesa. There is no legally binding connection of any kind in either direction. (It would seem that the only thing that binds us is the perception of those inside and outside, positive and negative.) If I agree with the theology I am supposed to agree with and agree with The Distinctives, I get to be listed as a CC fellowship, I get to use the dove and the name Calvary Chapel if I choose to do so. I get access to CC pastors conferences, regional get-togethers, and an account with Calvary Distribution. I get to fellowship with other pastors of like philosophy and theology. If something goes wrong, if I go wrong, from a CC perspective I get confronted on a personal level by the regional guy and CCOF can take my affiliation away from me. There was a time when the church was affiliated. Now it’s the individual pastor. What the church does with me is another issue entirely, but it will no longer be listed as a CC fellowship until a new pastor affiliates.

There are many other what-ifs we could throw into the CC simulator and see what comes out. Perhaps that will happen in some discussion. But right now, if things seem ambiguous, they are. Accountability. Change. Influence. Direction. Our individual roles in the grand scheme of things. They all really kind of hinge on the answer to the following questions:

1) What is Calvary Chapel the organization?
2) What does it mean to be an affiliated CC pastor?
3) If one wants to bring about change (improvement or correction), how does one go about doing this?

Epilady (er, epilogue) – If CC is or remains or turns into (depending on one’s perspective) a simple network of pastors whose cooperation with the leadership is entirely voluntary, then we really have no means of influence or accountability (beyond our relationship with the regional guy) for that matter. We either march to the drum of CCCM and CCOF (and I mean that in a positive way) or we don’t. If we want to be a CC we either do what CC does, or we don’t. (I’m speaking in a global sense, not in a minute detail sense.) Generally speaking I don’t see anything wrong with that. I believe in the local church with accountability. The alternative is for CC to denominationalize (another new word). To establish a specific leadership structure and hierarchy, disciplinary guidelines, channels of communication that include from the bottom to the top, requirements to agree with theology/doctrine even if changes are made, etc. I don’t see that happening. I wouldn’t want that to happen.

But perhaps there is a middle ground. Perhaps CCOF can revamp its requirements for affiliation that include specific things be in place in by-laws so that problems are required to be taken care of internally with specific workflows and outcomes. Perhaps they could have such things pre-written and the applicant would have to adopt them into their by-laws before affiliation can be granted. Just thinking out loud here. Of course, the question of who is affiliated, pastor or church (for whom the by-laws apply) would have to be revisited. Personally it makes more sense for the church to affiliate, but I digress.

At any rate, I would love to see this talked about, not just by us down here in the trenches, but those up on Mt. Calvary. We can take proactive steps in our own fellowships. We should take those steps instead of waiting for instructions or requests to float down to u
s. But for the sake of the movement, of this living community, it would be great to see our leadership address some of these things out loud amongst the masses.

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