In Star Wars Episode 1, Jedi Master Yoda has a line. “Fear is a path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leader to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” In many ways this is the completely wrong quote with which to open this post. In many other ways it could be the completely right quote. In either case the quote demonstrates a progression that could end poorly, or could end well depending on choices that are made. I think the choices that Pastor Brian Brodersen is making concerning Calvary Chapel (CC) are part of a progression that is going to end well for this reason; while Brian is being accused of doing things that move further from the roots of CC, I think that they are actually moving closer to its roots. I think there is some really good stuff on the horizon. Lem’me ‘splain.
What Is The Deal?
No, is too much. Lem’me sum up. There is way too much history and too many perceptions of history to summarize and filter through. In my opinion, the split that is taking place in CC is centered on these two question; what makes a CC, and who gets to decide? On the one hand you have the Calvary Chapel Association (CCA). On the other you have Brian Brodersen, Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, who recently resigned from the CCA and has started the Calvary Chapel Global Network (CCGN).
And yet, it isn’t about that. The question, “who gets to decide,” implies that there are two sides fighting over power, and there aren’t. One side, the CCA, is fighting for that power, and they are losing. They aren’t losing to the Brian, they are losing to themselves because of the fact that they are fighting for it. In my opinion they have an overdeveloped sense of legacy. Brian thought there should be more freedom in what it means to be a CC with regard to methodology, and he is pursuing that with other like-minded people.
But why? What was he not free to do, and where did the hinderance come from?
The Codifying of Culture – Blue Jeans Only
This isn’t about what is being done (or not) by Brian, it extends into how it is being done (or not). The how has become a part of the what. This is a hinderance and actually contrary to what it means to be a CC. Let me make an illustration, and then connect it to what I see happening.
Most of us here in America wear jeans at some point in our week. Jeans are a part of our general culture and we have a lot of freedom in how they can be worn. That’s the what. Now, when a group of people start wearing them a certain way, or only one color of them, they have added a “how” and that how is part of the definition of what they are. If you want to be a part of “them,” you have to wear the jeans (do the what) in a specific way (the how). Just wearing jeans isn’t enough. If you wore slacks, you were out all together. That cultural element has been codified.
To bridge the illustration, let’s say that Christians only wear pants. Weird, I know, but work with me. There are all kinds of pants that could be worn. Khakis, wool suit pants, muscle pants (ew), jeans, slacks, etc. As CC, we have decided to wear jeans (the “what”). Slacks are fine, but that’s just not us. We can and should hang out with slacks people. CCA wants to make it so that to be a “real” CC you wear regular blue Wranglers only (a “how”). If you wear black Levi’s, or light blue jeans from Walmart, or those fancy bedazzled-butt-pocket jeans (which, honestly, c’mon), well that’s just not us and you are bordering on heresy. That’s kind of what’s going on. That’s codifying the culture.
The Poor Camel’s Back
In CC, one of the “whats” that makes us us, is simple, verse-by-verse, Bible teaching. CC also holds to a pre-tribulation rapture of the church view of the end times. These are a couple of the Calvary Chapel Distinctives and also a part of The Philosophy of Calvary Chapel (both of which I will touch on later).
Recently, Brian has been accused of saying that we need to distance ourselves from teaching on the end times, and that teaching verse-by-verse through certain books of the Old Testament could be a bad thing when it comes to trying to connect with young people today. Neither of these are actually true. Why not?
As I have heard the audio snippets that are the source for these accusations, what I think Brian is actually getting at is that a certain way, a “how,” has been woven into the what. It isn’t the act of teaching verse-by-verse, its that the “right” way looks like (blank). It isn’t the act of teaching the end times, it’s that it has to look like (blank). A cultural element of “how” is now a part of the definition of the “what” and that is a step too far.
Separating hows from whats is part of the roots of what Chuck Smith did way back when. Now the CCA is trying to codify the hows in the CC culture, and it really is a hinderance.
What Are The Calvary Chapel Distinctives?
As CCs began to pop up all over the country, many of them had zero connection to the mother church, Costa Mesa. Guys were using the name because it was a recognizable name and starting churches. They didn’t believe what CC believed and did “whats” that were not in line with what was CC. To help reign things in, a book called Calvary Chapel Distinctives was assembled from various recordings of Chuck Smith teaching on ministry in general, and how CC does ministry.
To be a CC pastor, you and your church had to remain in line with what was in the book. Pastor Tom Stipe, who helped assemble the book, later shared that he regretted it instantly. He called it “the box document” and thought that as soon as you put things like this in a box, it was the beginning of the end. I think he was right.
There was/is arguably one fatal flaw in this book; it codified culture. It added hows to the whats. More than this, even because of this, none of the pastors I knew in CC, including myself, held to 100% of them in practice, even though on paper we said that we did. We had to say that we did in order to be “in.” We weren’t going to let things that were “hows” separate us, so we overlooked them.
The Distinctives are what they are, and if people want to hold to them, then good for them. But the reality is that the Distinctives themselves, and the fact that they exist in written form, are crazy contrary to the spirit of what Chuck did and what CC is supposed to be.
A “Real” Calvary Chapel
When I was pastoring a CC, we would occasionally have people come through who were from other CCs that were focused on the hows. They would tell me that we weren’t a “real” CC. What makes a real CC? These are some of the “hows” that these people would tell me. No joke here.
- We didn’t have a bookstore. (But we did have a lending library that no one used.)
- We didn’t do bulletins, or when we did, we didn’t do them a certain way. (No one took them home anyway.)
- I didn’t wear a Hawaiian shirt. (We lived in NW Oregon.)
- We had fake candles out which was too emergent. (Because Jesus never had candles around.)
- We didn’t sing Maranatha! choruses. (I do like many of them, but sometimes you have to sing a NEW song unto the Lord.)
- We didn’t have an annual prophecy update, or didn’t comment on the news from a prophecy perspective. (Isn’t part of the point to teach people how to keep an eye on these things themselves?)
- When I was teaching on (x passage) I didn’t talk about (x idea) like Chuck did. (Chuck actually hated all the “Chuck worship” so I didn’t do it.)
It is these kinds of things, these hows, that have nothing to do with anything really. What should be the standard? What does one need to do to be a Calvary Chapel?
Enter Freedom and Flexibility – The Philosophy of Calvary Chapel
As all of this has been happening I decided to revisit a PDF called “The Philosophy of Calvary Chapel.” I can’t speak to whether it was taken from recordings or if it something that Chuck sat down and wrote. In either case, this does a really good job of spelling out the “whats” without any specific “hows” to get in the way. There is freedom in that. There is flexibility in that. As Chuck used to say, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken.” I think that these represent the best of what CC was, and what it could be again. They represent the best version of CC that I think should be aspired to. Here is my own paraphrase/summary.
- Expository teaching, whether verse by verse, or topically themed, not preaching hobby horses (including the end times).
- An emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus, beginning with the pastor, and not on growing the church. The fruit of this is demonstrated in personal evangelism, not primarily corporate, which results in Jesus growing His church.
- Equipping the saints for the work of ministry, not being professional ministers. No “big guns” as it were.
- An emphasis on what God has done for us out of love, not on us doing for God out of obligation. The understanding of that is demonstrated in service to God motivated by a mutual love between the Christian and The Lord.
- The word of God working in concert with the Spirit of God to challenge and mature the people of God.
- The best possible version of what is called the “Moses Model” of leadership. Not an all-powerful tyrant, but a servant-leader that is a genuine model of a follower of Jesus. Elders, overseers, and deacons are raised up to help fulfill the items summarized above.
From the document,
“In essence, the philosophy of Calvary Chapel is to perfect the saints for the work of the ministry and to build up the body of Christ, instructing them in the Word until they come into the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and into a full maturity, unto the stature of the measure of the image of Christ.”
This philosophy is completely independent of methodology and church culture. There is so much freedom in this. I think this is what Brian Brodersen wants to get back to with the CCGN and I’m stoked about it.
Being a CC doesn’t look one way only. It doesn’t take only one form. We used to value diversity within the movement within this context of who we are. A church culture is the not truth of God’s word, it’s a framework in which people share in God’s word. The Bible is an integrated whole written by the Holy Spirit through the hands of people to the hearts of people. When the word and the Spirit connect in a person’s heart, transformation takes place. Click To Tweet That’s the goal. That’s the culture. We need a framework, not a prison building, with which we can pursue this as God has wired is in the place where we live and serve.
In His Own Words
I think Pastor Chuck says it best.
In conclusion, I believe Calvary Chapel has a biblically sound and balanced understanding of the church, its function in the world and its total dependence upon the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit of God for its success as it faithfully proclaims the Good News of the cross of Jesus Christ and the hope of salvation through Him only.
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
[reminder]What do you think? Can ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ be separated? Does culture inform philosophy, or the other way around?[/reminder]
Be sure to signup for the email list (just below) and get updates about more articles and resources about the Bible, ministry, relationships, and other ways that God’s word connects with everyday living.