What Is Calvary Chapel?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CALVARY CHAPEL
Calvary Chapel began in the late 1960's as a small non-denominational church of 25 people pastored by Chuck Smith. As we enter the 21st 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. The Calvary Satellite Radio Network broadcasts worldwide. In addition to these dynamic ministries, Calvary Chapel's Bible College provides Bible education to thousands at its home campus in Murietta, California and at over 40 extension campuses world wide.
Because of its size and influence, many Christians have asked exactly what Calvary Chapel believes, what are its distinctives, and 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. After all, what really matters is what we have in common as Christians: the "essential" doctrines of the infallibility of God's Word, the virgin birth of Christ, His sinless life, His death for our sins, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to glory, and His personal return to rule the earth. These essentials are the essence of Christianity, and agreed upon by virtually all born again believers.
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. 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. Yet, there are distinctives that make Calvary Chapel unique and which define our mission.
That is the purpose of this summary.
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 that 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 modern 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. It spawned denominations that emphasize the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual and Scriptural gifts of the Spirit that 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. Special "after glow" services and home fellowships 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 that 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 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 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 the Holy Spirit leads him, and we trust God to put pastors where He wants them to be.
WHAT WE DO NOT BELIEVE
At Calvary Chapel, we reject some popular doctrines of various 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, "amillennialism", post-millennialism, as well as a mid or post-tribulation rapture view. At Calvary Chapel, we believe in the pre-tribulational rapture of His saints and the pre-millennial return of Jesus Christ with His saints.
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 both the Holy Spirit and evil spirits can simultaneously indwell a believer. Christians can be attacked and externally oppressed 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 the 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. Strict five point Calvinists believe that only the elect can be saved and that God has elected others to spend eternity in hell.
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.
At Calvary Chapel, we also reject the teaching of "positive confession" which is the doctrine put forth by the faith movement teachers that says that we as human beings can have unlimited health and wealth because we, like God, have the ability to create our own reality by the confession of our lips. These people teach that if a person will confess health and wealth consistently, then that is what they will have, and, conversely, the Christian living in sickness or poverty is settling for less than his full inheritance in Christ. At Calvary Chapel, we believe that many believers both in the Bible and in daily life are often afflicted not because their confession is wrong, but simply because we live in a foreign world. We believe that the health and prosperity doctrine is a perversion of Scripture and is often used to fleece the flock of God. We do not believe that God can be commanded by man to heal or provide, but that we must always submit to His perfect will even in affliction.
Additionally, we reject the teaching that uses human prophecy to supersede the Word of God. There are some Christian groups around which claim to have prophets and apostles of equal validity with those who wrote the Bible. Moreover, they claim that the prophetic utterances from these people take precedence over the Word of God. At Calvary Chapel, we believe that the Bible is the final authority and the complete Word of God for His church today, and that no prophecy or teaching can ever supersede it.
Some churches have incorporated human secular psychology and philosophy into their teaching programs, creating sermons that are more based on secular humanistic theory than on the Word of God. While we respect our fellow believers who work in mental health related fields, we at Calvary Chapel believe that the central mission of the church is to proclaim God's Word to a lost and hurting world. Moreover, it has been our experience that humanistic psychology and philosophy often do more harm than good, and people respond best when God's Word is proclaimed in the power and love of the Holy Spirit. It is God's Word that changes lives for the better. At Calvary Chapel, our services remain centered on the teaching of the Bible.
And finally, as we have mentioned before, Calvary Chapel rejects the over-emphasis of spiritual gifts and experiential signs and wonders to the exclusion of Biblical teaching. Again, we are a Bible based ministry that avoids programs and gimmicks in favor of the simple teaching of the Word of God in love to His people. In our services, we focus on a personal relationship with God through worship, prayer, and the teaching of the Word of God. We offer both expository and topical studies; we do not allow speaking in tongues loudly during services because we do not believe that the Holy Spirit would interrupt Himself.