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.