Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Striking a balance on Calvary Chapel - the good

Calvary Chapel publications often say that Calvary "strikes a balance" between extremes in Christian theology and practice - between Calvinist and Arminian, between fundamentalist and charismatic, etc. I thought it might be useful to "strike a balance" on Calvary Chapel itself. For, unlike Marc Antony, I wish neither to unduly praise Calvary nor to bury it. I should say up front that my family attends a Calvary Chapel (Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, VA), we have attended for the past 5 years, and we have no plans to leave. Any reader should take this exactly as my other articles: as my thoughts on the subject. So that the article does not get too unwieldy, I am writing it in two installments: the "good" and the "not so good."

I will start by saying that I so appreciate Calvary's reliance on the Bible as the center of everything they do. The typical Calvary - ours included - does verse-by-verse preaching through the Bible as its main source of sermon material. When we started at Cornerstone five years ago, our pastor was preaching from Genesis on both Wednesdays and Sundays. At some point he switched Wednesday sermons to the New Testament, so now we are in Ezekiel on Sunday and Romans on Wednesday. If you have not experienced preaching all the way through the Bible, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I find I get the kind of understanding of the Bible that topical or even book-by-book preaching never gave me - the whole context of the Bible verses, not just individual verses.

This orientation towards the Bible also allows Calvary Chapels to resist the tendencies of modern churches - towards seeker-sensitivity, or emerging "missionality" that water down God's truth to be more palatable for the unsaved. In fact, Calvary founder Chuck Smith wrote a widely-distributed article that includes strongly-opposed position on the emerging church. Besides being remarkable for being one of the few leaders of large church groups to publicly take such a strong stand against these trends, his actions are even more remarkable given that his own son, Chuck Smith, Jr. is a pastor who promotes many trends of the emerging church. I can hardly imagine the difficulty he has felt in so strongly denouncing things taught by his own son.

Because of this, I almost always attend Calvary Chapels when traveling. As I will mention below, to me Calvary Chapel is somewhat like Outback steakhouses - they are not perfect, yet very, very good and consistent in their adherence to teaching the Bible.

Yet, in addition to their Bible-centeredness, Calvary Chapels are generally connected with the culture and community - through the use of things like modern music and close community involvement. There is also an evangelistic focus lacking in many churches of all shades of theology. In my experience, they are "missional" in the good sense (reaching out to unbelievers) without being "missional" in the bad sense (watering down the truth of the Gospel). Thus, I find that sermons (at least of my own pastor) are simultaneously evangelistic to unbelievers, edifying to believers, and exalting to God. That's because they are so closely based on the Bible, and the Bible is evangelistic, edifying, and God-exalting. So many sermons I've heard from other churches lack one or more of these: either edifying and exalting - but require great theological sophistication to understand - or evangelistic with little or no "meat" for more mature believers. (Seeker-oriented "felt needs" sermons, in my experience, are neither evangelistic, edifying, nor God-exalting, but that's another article.)

This orientation toward community is another very strong point in Calvary's favor. I know of people, for example, who drive 30+ miles to go to church on Sundays. Now, this may be necessary in some areas of the world. I work in Vermont sometimes, and there are very few good churches around. Therefore, I drive around 25 miles to Calvary Chapel Burlington because there is literally no other decent church in the area where I work. (If you are in Burlington, say hey to Pastor Kirk for me. He's a great guy with solid, Biblical teaching as well as great fellowship.)

However, in many areas, it is simply not necessary to drive long distances. In my area, Washington D.C., there are a number of solid Bible-teaching churches. It is certainly true that some of them - such as Reston Bible Church - more closely match my theological beliefs than Cornerstone does. However, it is 23 miles away. Besides being inconvenient, it tends to break any kind of community involvement that I might have with the church. Would I drive there Sundays? Probably. What about Wednesday nights or Saturday community functions and projects? Doubtful. And I believe that church membership should be more than a Sunday-only thing. I don't want to be what Spanish-speakers might call a "dominguero" - a Sunday-only church member. Thus, with Cornerstone I can have fellowship with believers, community outreach involvement, and solid Bible-preaching.

In my book, this is a solid combination, and it is why I have no plans on leaving. However, all is not perfect. I will talk about these things a bit in my next article.


Chris said...

Gary, I appreciate your love of the Lord, support of Calvary Chapel (Leesburg) as well as your theological convictions. Looking forward to more blogs.

Anonymous said...

hi there,

interesting article. just moved to the area and am looking for a church-so i gave the blog a read. :)

this is a bit of a side-topic, but hey, blogging leads to tangent lines of thought on occasion!

read the article that dealt the "emergent church" by your pastor. it made me a bit sad. i came to a deeper knowledge and experience of Christ while attending an emerging church.

while in an emerging/emergent church in my college and young adult years, i was taught the scriptures and saw folks modeling christ-like behavior. had it not been for the authentic love and shepherding i was blessed with at that time, i doubt i would be a believer today.
do i think that emerging churches are perfect, heck no! we'll have to wait for heaven for that. do i think the church reached out to and ministered to a whole bunch of people who are often missed or overlooked by a more "traditional" church? absolutely.

isn't that the beauty of how God made us each so unique. God uses each of us and many different approaches to church fellowship to draw people to Himself. your church feeds, disciples and evangelizes, as an emerging church might, but different method are used and people in both are blessed!

in my experience with the emerging church, the difference is not where the truth is to be found. the bible was always taught as the supreme authority. that was never in question.

the topics covered at emerging churches are often the very same ones covered at any other church i have been to. just like at any other church, if you invite your neighbor who hasn't been to church in 20 years-the topic of that sermon with be MONEY! seriously. :)

the emerging view is one way for folks to help draw people near to God. my understanding has been that they are trying to envelope some people who have been falling through the cracks of "mainstream" churches for many years. that would seem like a good thing to me.

it sounds like the way your church fellowships is a great way for you to grow closer to God and follow Him. that is great!

but, what if there is not a place at your church that is comfortable to me? i don't mean theologically.
Christ died for my sins and i am lost without Him. He is my only hope and refuge. the bible is where I turn for inspiration, guidance, solace and strength.

what if i am not at ease with formal church services and am more responsive in a different environment? what if your church isn't a place my husband feels he can come to with his philosohpical questions? what if your church is somewhere my gay friend will feel judged and attacked more so than his neighbor who cheats on his wife or the materialistic super-couple? (God clearly abhors those things too, but some churches just feel more comfy talking about homosexuality with much greater frequency).

if there is a safe place for someone to explore a relationship with God, let's support that.

christ takes each of us with our imperfections, and each of our churches (yours included)with its strengths and weaknesses.

i hope many can look at your church and see the value in people coming togther in a common pursuit to know God, to worship Him, to follow Him and draw others near. that is the same thing i have seen and experienced in emerging churches.

the music may sound different. the lighting may be a bit lower.
folks might be dressed a bit more casually. the language used might even be that of a different generation or culture from yours.

the message, however, that God loves you, has a plan in mind for you and wants to rescue you from sin is the same.

that very backbone of the faith is the crux of it all. we can learn from each other and draw on each other's strengths.

i wish you the best in your blogging!

forgive me for rambling on so long-i just long for understanding between all of us who are following Christ.

-new to NoVa

Tim said...

It is encouraging to read your two articles on calvary chapel. My wife and I have been torn for quite a while about whether to look outside CC for our church. Been there 15 yrs. Saved there. But now fully embrace the Doctrines of Grace. Truth is, there are not a lot of other good churches in our area. I was encouraged reading your posts. Most Reformed converts have turned very anti-CC. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

If you listen to Chuck Missler's briefing package called, "The Sovereignty of Man", you'll see that Missler suggests that the solution to the question of how God knows the future is to be found in modern physics (by implication, NOT in the scriptures). In this way Missler actually leads people away from the scriptures and towards the human tradition and vain philosophy that Paul warns us about in Colossians 2:8.

There are other problems with CC's approach to things. In my opinion they have a theology which is basically religionized humanism. However, it is well hidden under an outer layer of pious sounding language that fools a lot of people. Those who can see the wolf of humanism lurking under the pious language recoil from it. That's why those who come to understand the Doctrines of Grace recoil from the CC movement.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Interesting comment about Chuck Missler. I don't think very highly of Missler; not only because of his end-of-the-world orientation that helped fuel Y2K mania, but because he is just not a very good exegete. As James White says, there's a reason you go to school to learn these things.

Accordingly, it doesn't surprise me that Missler has non-Bible-derived understandings; again, that's why you go to school. If I'm not mistaken, he is the source of the famous (traditional among Calvary Chapels) illustration of God's foreknowledge as God looking down on a parade from a balloon. My CC pastor has presented that a few times and I cringe every time I hear it.

However, I take a slight exception in that I don't agree with you that CC teaches "religionized humanism." Though Calvary is perhaps more dragged down by their unadmitted and unexamined traditions than most churches, all my interactions with Calvary pastors is that I really do think they try to honestly interpret and teach the Bible. Unfortunately, as I've noted, they nullify parts of the Scriptures by their traditions, but still the attempt is there.

This is why I believe there is a movement of God afoot in Calvary Chapel. In my experience, an increasing number of Calvary pastors - generally, I believe, the better-educated ones, those more willing to examine their traditions in light of Scripture - are joining the ranks of the monergists. I now know three monergist CC pastors - whose names I won't reveal, of course, because it might be "career-limiting." I think we will see more and more of this in CC, and I look forward to seeing the blossoming of truth in many people's lives.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

I also, by the way, have changed my view of whether Calvary is Arminian or not. It has become clear to me in the past couple of years that they are thoroughly Arminian in every way except in name. I believe it's because of the traditions they bring with them from their (generally) Arminian church backgrounds, but that's speculation.