First off, this is an opinion piece. It’s not a rah-rah, nor a slam slam. It’s just what I think. So be warned. This also isn’t a comprehensive thing. There is tons more that could be written. But I’m not writing a book so I will try to keep it short and to the point. Er, points.
First off, the good.
The authority of the word. As we read the Bible we see that the word of the Lord was at the heart of everything God’s people did. From Genesis 1:1, God’s spoken and written word are the basis for all things in the lives of the people of the Lord. The word of God was not worshipped, the God of the word was worshipped. God’s word communicates His heart, His mind, His will. God wants us to know and understand these things. Because of this, the clear and simple teaching and application of God’s word is foundational to the DNA of a Calvary Chapel fellowship (as it ought to be of any church). Not just informational and not just applicational (new word?) teaching. A balance of both. The power of the information and application comes from the Spirit. I love this quote from “The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel” which, if you have not read recently, read it again. In some ways I think it should replace the Distinctives. “Calvary Chapel believes in teaching the Word of God through the power of the Spirit of God which changes the lives of the people of God. If you have just the Spirit-emphasis with no Word and no foundation in the Word, then you are leading the people into experiences only, which are shallow. If you have just the Word of God without the Spirit, then you are leading people into dead orthodoxy. It takes the power of the Spirit of God to make the changes, but it takes the Word of God to give the substance and to give the foundation. It is that blending of the Word of God and being taught through the power of the Spirit of God that brings the changes in the people.” That pretty much sums it up for me.
Balance as dictated by the word. This applies in all areas of the individual Christian life and in the life of the church. The role and functioning of the gifts of the Spirit. The expression of worship (musical style, standing or not, hands raised or not, etc.). Theological balance. Righteous indignation and bearing one another’s burdens balance. Being in the world but not of it. Like that.
Freedom to do ministry as gifted and not held accountable to performance metrics. Because CC isn’t a denomination there is no top-down enforcement of quotas, reporting, programs, etc. There is instead a freedom to succeed and to fail. (Spiritual/moral accountability will come up later.) Pastors in the hood are free to reach out to people differently than people in the rural communities or rich communities. There can be a diversity of personality types. There is no cookie-cutter CC pastor. At least there shouldn’t be.
The theology. I love the theology of CC. The eschatology, the soteriology, the pneumatology, the ecclesiology, the bibliology, on and on-ology. It isn’t only the fear-driven “turn or burn” kind, nor is it only the “greasy grace” kind. It is as the Bible is; balanced. It is both predestination and human responsibility. It is both God hates sin and sinners God to Hell, and it is God is willing that none should perish but all come to a knowledge of the truth. It is both we need to repent and God forgives. It is both work out your own salvation with fear and trembling and it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. It is both God has a plan and nothing ever goes wrong with it, and sin and the curse result in the suffering we see in the world. All of this is demonstrated in the informational and applicational teaching, as well as the life of the believer and the church.
Now, the bad.
For me, what is bad about CC basically falls under the umbrella of one concept which is this; the assumption that CC is an organized movement with a leader who has a vision and direction for the movement, and the subsequent expectations from this assumption, both from within and without. (whew) Not let me qualify that.
Let’s start with the source. Chuck Smith never wanted to start a movement, has never wanted to be the leader of a movement, doesn’t consider himself the head of a movement, and doesn’t really consider CC something to be left or passed on to someone else. Those statements are based on conversations I’ve had with people close to Chuck, public statements by people who are close to Chuck, and gleanings from my years involved with CC and listening to Chuck via teaching tapes, conference videos, and “A Venture in Faith.” It’s his call. Personally, I believe that this perspective is a good one. I think Chuck is right to view things this way. But the rub is in the fallout from this.
People want to be a CC for lots of different reasons. When people want to share in a common thing there is a natural need for organization to some degree. There just is. I’m going to borrow an illustration from someone on SMP. Imagine several groups of kids show up at the same baseball field, each independently of the other. Each group just wanted to play catch, practice base running, catching pop-flies, score touchdowns, or something. As it turns out there are enough kids all together to have two teams. What happens? Somehow team captains are appointed, teams are chosen, batting line-ups are made, whose on first, what’s on second. However, it is just a casual pick-up game. People can come and go as they please. If someone is being obnoxious they are asked to leave the game. Others may leave with them. New kids show up and ask to play and they are given a place. But it’s still just a loose, friendly game.
CC affiliation is kind of the same way. (I don’t know who finally decides what CC affiliation really means but this is my understanding of it, and if this is wrong, then this is what I think it should be. So neener.) Chuck was moved by the Spirit to do church, evangelism, and discipleship a certain way. Others caught this vision and direction and went out to do the same. That is the Biblical model after all. Those men, in turn, raised up others who went out and did the same. Men who are from outside of this food chain saw what was going on and said, “Can I come play too?” Chuck said, “Sure. Here is what we are doing. If you want to do it this way, you are welcome to play.” But the game got huge. Teams had to go off to other fields to accommodate all of the people who wanted to play. As this grew, so did the natural need for more structure and organization. Therein lies the source of many of our problems.
CC, at its core, is a casual pick-up game, and that’s all Chuck ever intended it to be. When people wanted and needed structure and there wasn’t, structure was invented. This conflict between Chuck’s desire to just pastor a church and those who want CC to be more than a pick-up game is where all of the yuck comes from. Problems arise when people assume or disagree over or promote a kind of structure and how that structure functions. When a CC pastor blows it, when he starts playing by his own rules, or when he cheats, it is assumed that there is an umpire, or a coach, or a manager, or a league president who will do something about it. But there really isn’t. Why not? Because it is a pick-up game. If a kid that is messing up came to the game with some other kids, it should be up to those other kids to do something about it. If the kid came by himself, he needs to make friends and be accountable to others on his immediate team.
Another dynamic of this is those who liked the game the way it was when they signed up for it. Whether it was back when it was 20 players, or 100, they liked it then. I’ve heard about the days when all of the CC pastors fit with room to spare in the auditorium at Twin Peaks. “Those were the good old days.” As structure was imposed the game changed. The feel of it changed. The flavor of it changed. Those who liked the game the way it was call for more simplicity. This is at odds with those who want more structure. Some leave over it. Some stick around hoping for change.
Ultimately, the game and all of the players are supposed to be under the same Lord. We are supposed to be submitted to Jesus and the Spirit. When we aren’t, things get ugly. All of the issues like pastoral accountability within CC, escalation of issues by CC members, etc., their resolution (or lack thereof) really stems from this inherent conflict of the need for organization and the freedom to be in this game or not. What is the solution? I think it lies in what is great about CC.
Finally, the great.
CC isn’t a franchise. It isn’t even really a movement. As I said earlier, Chuck never intended it to be. What is great about CC is that the emphasis is on what God, what the Spirit can and wants to do in the individual lives of pastors, people, and churches. It isn’t about reproducing something man has come up with. It isn’t about copying what happened back in the day. It’s about individuals being accountable to God. It’s about God directly working through people. It’s about stirring up the gifts that are within us and using them. Because it is God to whom we are all ultimately accountable to, He is the one who gets all the glory and credit. He is the one who does the correction. People not giving God the glory or submitting to His correction is another issue. I’m talking about what is supposed to be modeled and is indeed modeled. The good and the fruit that comes out of a CC isn’t the result of what Chuck or CCOF does, it’s from the Lord.
Chuck doesn’t model a movement, he models a servant/leader, he equips, and he sends. I think that the answer to what ails CC rests in understanding and applying this concept. To me, accountability should be on a personal/pastoral level, not an organizational level. We shouldn’t be loyal to an organization but to a person/people. God raises up a man, empowers him with the Spirit to teach the word, the Spirit draws people to God, the man disciples and tells people to “go into all the world.” The man exemplifies the servant/leader in such a way that it can be caught (like Chuck does), or he specifically teaches and trains in such a way that others are taught (both are valid and Biblical, usually a mixture of both). They demonstrate Paul’s word, “mimic me as I mimic Christ.” Those that are sent (as opposed to went) ought to be accountable to that sending pastor/church because of relationship. It should be natural, not contractual. We have great models of this. The early CC guys for example. This applies to those who join the game from outside of CC. They made a relationship with Chuck (or another established CC pastor) and held themselves accountable to that person based on relationship. Those who want to join the CC organization need to do so based on relationship (or a desire for relationship), not because they want to join the “movement.” We, as CC pastors, need to have relationship with those who sent us, or we need to willingly put ourselves under others in a relationship so that we can have a model to follow, and then turn around and model it for others. That’s what Chuck did and that’s one of the great things about CC. For those who desire CC to be more practical in its training of pastors, this flies in their face. They look to the organization for help, not relationships with people they already have. If you want more practical training, find a mentor. Go to where they offer what it is you want, get it, then pass it on to someone else here. While some argue “why reinvent the wheel?” others might say “learn from the Lord.” There is something to be said for both. For me, some things can be learned from others. Other things I have had to learn on my own. What those things are vary from person to person. They are either caught or taught. To quote Yoda, “Pass on what you have learned.” Whether someone else learns from it is up to them.
Programs serve the body, the body doesn’t serve programs. CC isn’t about the programs. I’m not told by the head office what my children’s programs should be using, what my youth programs should be doing, or what programs I should be using on Sundays. When there is a need in the body, when some kind of structure is needed to meet a Spirit-led need, a program can be developed. When that need is met the program can end. If the need changes the program can be changed. Programs are tools to get jobs done, they aren’t the job themselves. I really dig this about CC.
It’s all about the grace. The emphasis of Chuck Smith and CC is that God wants to forgive, He wants relationship, Jesus died so that we might have new life with Him. In the end, no matter what passage or topic we are teaching, CC comes back to the cross, the ultimate expression of the grace of God. That is truly a great thing.
There is tons more to be sure. There are probably some biggies that I have overlooked. My apologies if I left your favorite (or least favorite) out. A year from now the list might be totally different. Who knows. Maybe we’ll revisit it them another time.