The Future of Calvary Chapel, part 1

Since before and after the Christianity Today (CT for short) article “Day of Reckoning”, those of us on simplemindedpreacher have independently and collectively been discussing and praying about the nature, the future, the ups and downs of Calvary Chapel. I can remember, 10 years ago now, my friend Ray and I sitting in a living room and talking about what might happen to CC when Chuck retires or dies. While the CT article brought up some ugly feeling and responses on all sides of the issues, nothing has really changed for me personally. I’m still faced with the same questions, same concerns, same likes and dislikes I had before. If nothing else the CT article and the upcoming LA Times article will serve as a mirror for everyone involved in CC. And they should. Self examination is a good thing. I will continue to examine myself and CC in such a way as to hold on to the good and eliminate the bad from my own life and ministry.

90% of my experience with CC has been outside of SoCal. I was saved at Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, WA in the mid 1980s, served there until I went to college at the U. of Wash in Seattle, WA where I attended Calvary Fellowship. After that I spent two years going through CCBC (Twin Peaks) then moved back to work at Crossroads. I recently spent a year at CC Pittsburgh. Now I’m back in Washington working part time at one CC while I transition into pastoring another CC. Those two years in SoCal were very potent and eye opening. The good stuff I learned reinforced lessons I didn’t even know learned from my home church. The centrality of the word, walking in the Spirit, the kind and quality of life we are supposed to have in the Lord. The bad stuff I observed seems primarily unique (though not exclusive) to SoCal.

One of these things is a fanatical devotion to Chuck Smith. Why is Chuck referred to as Pope Chuck by those critical of CC? Why is Costa Mesa called Costa Mecca? Because, whether they admit it or not, there are those pastors and parishioners in CC who view, honor, respect, and uphold Chuck Smith in the same way that heavy-duty Catholics do the Pope. There are those who say that everyone should make the pilgrimage to the mother-church. For many in SoCal Chuck can do no wrong. This is just an irrational view to hold of anyone. The Apostle Peter was an Apostle for crying out loud, and he needed to be corrected from time to time. Can anyone be so unaware as to think that Chuck Smith doesn’t make mistakes? He does. We all do. As for visiting Costa Mesa, I can understand that to a point. I think any believer can. I recently saw some pictures of the sanctuary of the church I got saved at, before it was remolded. I got very nostalgic. I wish everyone could experience what I experienced there. But for me to say, “You mean you’ve never been there? Oh man. They you aren’t a real CC person.” Is silly.

Something else I noticed was that if people didn’t have the fanatical devotion to Chuck Smith, they were fanatically devoted to the CC movement/organization/fellowship of churches. These would be people who were saved in second generation CCs. To some, no CC anywhere can do wrong. CC is God’s movement and it always does the right thing. That’s just an inappropriate way to see things. While God did and continues to use CC and Chuck Smith, seeing them as God’s only instrument in our day is ignorant. Sorry to burst your bubble.

We can’t be devoted to a man, save Jesus. We can’t be devoted to a movement, save that of the Holy Spirit. We need to be devoted to a common mission, saving souls. There are people I respect as leaders, whose example I follow and try to model, because I recognize that they are walking with the Lord and the Lord is guiding and directing them. I don’t worship them. I don’t put them in the Holy of Holies. I admire, respect, listen to, and evaluate their lives, gleaning from their successes and failures.

The reality is that, in God’s eyes, Chuck Smith and I (and you reader person) are all on the same level. We are all equally saved, equally being made holy, and equally capable of being used by the Lord to do great things for His kingdom. The critics and fanatical followers of CC have both done the same thing with Chuck and CC; put them up on a pedestal. One side is trying to keep them up there while the other is trying to knock them down. If I make a mistake as a pastor, if I become self serving and mess with someone’s life, if get hooked on porn, is there a difference between me doing those things and Chuck Smith doing those things? Yes and no. The yes difference is that the scale and magnitude of the mistakes made by someone in a position like Chuck are much greater than someone in my lowly position. There is more collateral damage done. The no difference is that If I make a bad call and it hurts someone, it hurst someone? An injured life is still an injured life whether it’s me or Chuck Smith. It’s like asking if there is a difference between a bomb that kills one person or 1,000. Is one person’s life less valuable than 1,000 people’s lives? Not to that one person’s family and friends. So, while a financial, counseling, hiring, or firing decision made by Chuck may effect more people and may indeed be more public, it doesn’t make what I might do any less. If those decisions hurt people, then people are hurt. If not decisions help and save people, then people are helped and saved.

Outside of SoCal, if you can believe it, there are people who serve in and attend CCs who have never heard of Chuck Smith and couldn’t find Costa Mesa on a map. A fair number of churches outside of SoCal were already doing the CC thing before they affiliated and they continue to do their own thing their own way. I’m not trying to make an “us v. them” thing here with the in and out (haha) of SoCal thing. I guess I’m trying to help those in SoCal see beyond the Orange Curtain, as well as help those outside of the OC see what life is like down there. People on the CC side of the CT article are in these two camps. Those in SoCal seem to defend themselves with the “don’t mess with CC” point of view. Those outside of SoCal seem to defend themselves (as I have) with the “don’t broad brush all CCs with the same thing.” Do you see the difference there? It’s a general thing, but significant none the less. One might argue (though not realistically at this point) that these could be the early sign of a crack, a division in the CC ranks, or a possible root for such a thing. If that’s true it’s pretty stupid. If we get that far gone as CC pastors and fellowship then we deserve to fall apart. I throw it out there as something to keep an eye on. As a non-SoCal person, I’ve already caught myself thinking, “If things really as bad as this article suggests, and if the people who are rabidly defending CC make up the majority and their words and behavior represent the heart and mentality of what SoCal CCs are turning into, I don’t want to be a part of that.” But then I remind myself that I’m not CC because I want to be a part of the club. I’m a CC because its ideals echo what God has put in my heart as a pastor. To me, I didn’t join CC. It joined me.

What does any of this have to do with the future of Calvary Chapel? A great deal I think. I’ve been writing about peoples perceptions of CC and its leadership. I’ve spent more time talking about those of us inside CC than those outside. I think the future of CC has more to do with our mentality than our methodology as CC pastors and fellowships. That’s what part two of these humble, opinionated ramblings will primarily address.

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