First, I would like to start by saying two things:
- I’ve been involved with Calvary Chapel for thirteen years.
- Not all Calvary Chapel churches are the same.
The former is to show that I am very experienced in what I’m about to say, and the latter is to show what I say does not apply to all Calvary Chapel churches. That said, I felt the need to record my experiences and observations within the Calvary Chapel movement. I promise to be truthful in all that I say, for the sake of my own integrity before God.
If you have never been to a Calvary Chapel before, consider this a review. If you have, then you know what I’m talking about already. If you attend a Calvary Chapel, you will know that they are extremely close with their own denomination. Pretty much all Calvary pastors know each other, because there is a focus on conferences (Pastor’s, Men’s, Women’s). I very quickly knew the names of famous “Calvary guys” like Chuck Smith (Founder), Bob Coy, Skip Heidzig, Joe Focht, Ken Graves, etc. Calvary Chapel is also well known for putting an emphasis on scripture, being Pre-Trib, having contemporary/casual worship, and not having formal “memberships.”
I was one of the first members involved with starting a Calvary Chapel in North Carolina (I wont name where). The senior pastor was obsessed with Chuck Smith, as many “Calvary guys” are. Chuck Smith made it into more sermons than Jesus did (sarcasm). When the pastor would preach, he would spend more time attacking the Bible with textual criticism and “between-the-lines” doctrine, than he would about what the scripture actually says. Aside from all that, there was one thing that annoyed the heck out of me every week. Every single week, half-way through the last song, the pastor would walk straight up to the pulpit and stand there in the spotlight (literally) as we try to gaze behind his head to look at the words to the song which happens to be directly behind him. I mean if that isn’t blatant pride coming to the surface, I don’t know what is.
My best time in this church was when I met a man named Ron, who became a spiritual leader in my life. He is bold, sarcastic, and more knowledgeable in the scriptures than anybody I’ve ever known. I learned a great deal from him. He eventually became the youth pastor, and asked me to be a kind of “assistant.” I agreed to it, and I started teaching every third Friday. This is when I really started to see the darkness behind the mask.
The more I listened and conversed with the senior pastor, the more I began to become indoctrinated about Calvinism. Calvary Chapel is Arminian in theology, and it definitely comes out. The pastor has many times both in pulpit and out of pulpit bashed John Piper simply to get an argument. Ron and I wanted to show a famous youtube video by John Piper about the prosperity gospel to the youth group, and the pastor’s response was a very quick “John Piper?!-Why are you listening to John Piper?!” To which I responded “…because it’s an excellent video?” near clenching my fist at his pride. He replied “I guess you get a good one sometimes…That guy is like 99% right on, but there is that 1%” as he shook his head. “Right, and you’re the 100% guy” I said to myself. I couldn’t believe someone could be so ignorant about a solid Bible teacher, and so proud to think his theology was perfect. His parting words with me that night were “-and stay away from John Piper.” At this point in my life, I was listening to Paul Washer and James MacDonald daily, but I was very much against Calvinism because everyone else is. We were told to not even listen to what Calvinists had to say, and only read the books “approved” by Calvary Chapel. Y’know, all two of them. The one written by Chuck Smith, and the other written by Chuck Smith. If you listen to people other than Chuck Smith, you’re probably not a Christian. Either that, or a backslider that is about to lose his salvation for not abiding in Christ.
Some of you may think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. Chuck Smith himself puts a hyper-focus on the rejection of Calvinism. It was in my church’s mission statement. The pastor went out of his way to write what we “don’t” believe, and went on to list the points of Calvinism. Chuck Smith said in a candid pastor’s conference that the pastors of Calvary Chapel need to stop “flirting with reformed theology.” Little did he know, the whole reason his pastors were getting converted to Calvinism was because of the emphasis on the Bible.
I was a rare breed, however. I didn’t do what everyone else did, and I actually debated Calvinists almost weekly. I was very much engaged in theological discussion with people that did not agree with me. In the hardness of my heart, I thought Calvinists were heretics that needed to be changed. I said “I will never be a Calvinist.” Little did I know, this year I became one. I was debating a Calvinist who also came out of Calvary Chapel, and he pointed out the things I was saying about Calvinism isn’t even accurate. The majority of people in Calvary Chapel don’t even know what Calvinism is. I had to be re-taught what Calvinists believe, because the people in CC are making straw men because they don’t talk to them. CC is very isolated in that sense. It only surrounds itself with people who agree with them about everything, which means they know nothing about things outside of how they do things. How will iron sharpen iron like that? Even as an Arminian, I loved Calvinists. I thought they were wrong, but I admired their love for scripture. We had that in common. In the end, I was the one sharpened.
I write this as a plead too all. Do not shun those who believe differently, for you will be isolated and never grow. If you’re involved with CC, please do not view Calvinists as heretics or unsaved. It just isn’t true. Calvinists, do not view Arminians as unsaved. It’s not true. It’s just a means for Satan to get you to set a snare your brother’s soul.