This is my summary and response to the “Centrality of Jesus Christ” chapter in Chuck Smith’s book, “Calvary Chapel Distinctives.”
This chapter begins by stating, “One of the important characteristics of Calvary Chapel is the centrality of Jesus Christ in our worship.” To Chuck Smith this means disallowing people from standing up individually when singing in church and avoiding distractions during corporate worship. He believes that these sort of things will cause people to #1) lose focus on Christ during worship, and #2) leave the church.
Chuck Smith says, “it’s important for these things to be dealt with because displays like these will cause you to lose prospective members (Pg. 57).” He cites a situation while visiting a Calvary Chapel where someone was standing up to dance during worship. Chuck, annoyed by it, spoke to the pastor. When the pastor defended the practice Smith thought to himself, “All right, stay small (Pg. 58).” Smith notes that in his church, Costa Mesa, if someone does stand up they are dealt with immediately and in love (Pg. 58).
Smith tells a story about his time in Bible College. There was a guy who would always disrupt the service during the sermon. He would stand with his hands raised and yell, “Hallelujah!” Finally, determined to stop it, Chuck sat in the row right behind him and waited for him to begin his “Hallelujah” bit. Smith grabbed his shoulder, pinching a nerve and held him down on his knees (Pg. 60). Chuck Smith notes that he was the only one with the courage to stop him.
He believes that the motivation for these outbursts during corporate worship is to draw attention to self. He cites 1 Corinthians 1:29, “No flesh should glory in His presence” and points to an Old Testament case study where Nadab and Abihu offer up strange fire, are consumed and struck dead as a result (Leviticus 10). Smith comments on this passage, “It’s my belief that they got caught up in the emotion and the excitement of the moment.” As a result, they were consumed (Pg. 62).”
He believes Ananias and Sapphira of Acts 5 were guilty of the same. Smith ends with a warning against drawing undue attention to self and acting out to show other people that you are a deeply spiritual person. He says, “It’s very important to keep Jesus Christ as the central focus in our worship (Pg. 63).”
I expected a chapter titled, “The Centrality of Jesus Christ” to be a hermeneutical statement about the bible, preaching and redemptive history. See Michael Horton’s, “Preaching Christ Alone” as an example. Instead, what Smith felt necessary to communicate in this inaptly titled chapter was a reactionary stance against the radical pentecostal movement he came out of- “how to behave during corporate worship.” I’m not sure how this chapter even attempts to make a case for the centrality of Christ in anything. The chapter has no substance and makes no distinctive points except that pastors should guard against scaring visitors away and drawing attention to self. Seems to be good practical advice, but not much to do with the concept of the centrality of Christ as echoed throughout scripture.
Unlike Jesus’ statement, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me”- the title for this chapter indicating the centrality of Christ was not intended to be a statement about salvation, redemptive history or the scriptures; Chuck Smith intended to address Calvary Chapel’s stance on worship. In this sense it is a neglected approach to the fact that our worship is of a triune God which should culminate in the exaltation of Christ as redeemer/savior, not his exclusivity.
I don’t believe that Chuck Smith is Unitarian. Instead, Chuck Smith, like other modern evangelicals who separate themselves from historic Christianity, places himself and his followers in the disadvantaged position of developing a doctrine of worship in solitude. In other words, Smith forfeits the valuable jewels mined from scripture throughout the history of the church. Rather than drawing from those resources concerning the worship of the triune God, Chuck Smith formulates a version of his own that greatly misses the mark. (See one of my prior posts, “Individualism: The Church or the Island” for elaboration).
While the account of Nadab and Abihu speaks volumes concerning the topic of worship, Smith grossly misrepresents the text. This is not a story about men wanting to show everyone else how spiritual they were. That is adding to the text where it is silent. This is an account of men disregarding God’s explicit instruction for worship. It’s a common thread throughout the history of scripture. We see this thread going as far back as Cain and Abel. Men have always been wanting to worship God on their own terms and with their own innovations. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, Cain’s was not. Why? The prescribed method required the shedding of blood.
Calvin states, “Nadab and Abihu did not mindfully intend to pollute the sacred things, but, as is often the case in matters of novelty, when they were setting about them too eagerly, their precipitancy led them into error. It would seem a harsh punishment for such a mindless mistake; but if we reflect how holy a thing God’s worship is, the enormity of the punishment will by no means offend us.” Calvin goes on to say, “The ‘strange fire’ is distinguished from the sacred fire which was always burning upon the altar: not miraculously, as some pretend, but by the constant watchfulness of the priests. Now, God had forbidden any other fire to be used in the ordinances.”
Nadab and Abihu were struck down for using strange fire. God had regulated worship by his word and they were not careful to obey this prescribed manner. Does that not ring true in the church today? How about in the innovations introduced by this book in regards to Church Government and the dis-regarded qualifications of elders in the chapter Grace upon Grace? Does not scripture regulate the prescribed method of these things and more?
How are we to worship God? Can we use candles? Can we use dance streamers? Puppets? Does it even matter?
There are varying views on this and quite often you hear people rule certain things out based on their opinion that those particulars may serve as a distraction for others during corporate worship. Often these explanations make sense pragmatically, but have you considered that it makes the source of right and wrong in worship a matter of subjective opinion?
There is a principle that establishes that God’s word regulates what is and isn’t allowed in worship (and all of life). To the reformers it is part and parcel with sola scriptura. It’s called the regulative principle of worship. Brian Schwertley’s article, “Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principle of Worship” makes the case for the regulative principle of worship (RPW) and explains a bit about what that means. Enjoy!
I realize that many of my readers are unfamiliar with the term “dispensationalism.” In short, it is one of the many frameworks for interpreting or understanding the whole of scripture. The view is popularly known and represented by the “Left Behind” movie series. While it is thought by many to be an unimportant side topic relating to the “end-times” and the “rapture”, it really has more practical implications concerning the history of redemption, the Christian’s view of evangelism, the church, culture and the Kingdom of God.
In dispensational theology the church age is a provisional parenthesis designed to gather in the gentiles while God’s OT people, the Jews, are temporarily placed on the sidelines. In their view the church was never intended to be God’s primary instrument for the furtherance of his Kingdom, the Jews were. In fact, dispensationalists understand the church age to be a temporal, failing, dispensation that will culminate in it being raptured out of this world and in God returning his attention to the blood-line of Abraham.
On the flip side, covenantal theologians have insisted the opposite. Covenantal theologians believe that the church IS what God had in mind when he promised the OT people that his Kingdom would flourish throughout the earth. Yes, the blood-line of Abraham were to be blinded for a season, but they do not believe in two distinct peoples of God. Instead, believing Gentiles have been grafted into an already existing people, remain one in Christ, and are Abrahams offspring, heirs according to promise.
How both sides interpret the parable of the mustard seed reveals quite a bit about these polar opposite views.
- He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.'” (Matthew 13:31-32)
In the dispensational view, this is a parable depicting something negative about the church. David Guzik says, “Some regard this as a beautiful picture of the church growing so large that it provides refuge for all the world. But this mustard seed plant has grown into a monstrosity, and it harbors birds – who, in the parables, are emissaries of Satan.” Similarly other dispensationalists such as Chuck Smith and Jon Courson of Calvary Chapel as well as J. Vernon McGee say the same. To the dispensationalist this is a parable about a church that eventually fails, growing into a world power and hosting all sorts of evil.
Covenantal theologians on the other-hand view this as a positive parable concerning the church. The puritan Matthew Henry even goes as far as to refer to the birds as the people of God, “The church is like a great tree, in which the fowls of the air do lodge; God’s people have recourse to it for food and rest, shade and shelter.”
What’s the true meaning of the birds in this parable? Is Christ optimistic about his church or is he pessimistic?
I’d like to think that when he stated that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18) that he was being consistent. The OT sheds some light on this parable. The same picture is used in Daniel 4:11-12 to illustrate the breadth, power and fruitfulness of the babylonian kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. The beasts of the field and birds of the air that found refuge in it represented the beneficiaries of the kingdom (all flesh found refuge in it). Again the same illustration is used in Ezekial 17:22-24; except this time it’s the Kingdom established by God and it happens to overshadow all other high trees. This is the Kingdom Israel has been waiting for. The same Israel God called a nation of priests and a holy nation in Exodus 19:6 and repeated to the church in 1 Peter 2:9. It’s related to the same set of Kingdom prophecies that Christ claimed was fulfilled in his reading of Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:16-21.
Regarding the church, dispensationalists flip the bird.
So what’s the big deal whether someone is optimistic vs. pessimistic? Well, it shows in our ecclesiology (how we do/view church). It shows in the surface level view of salvation as a post-mortem fire insurance. It shows in the church’s lack of desire to dialogue over scripture in the pursuit of unity. And it shows that instead of engaging the culture and recognizing our God-given vocations we’d rather be satisfied with the “earth-is-going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket-so-why-bother” mentality.
I wrote this five page paper titled “The Effect of Christianity on Informing the Teleological Aspect of Lamarckian Evolution.” It was about the history of scientific thought from pre-Darwinian evolution to our modern era with a focus on racial and gender issues. I took every opportunity given to practice presuppositional apologetics within the bounds of the assignment, here is one of them. I believe this paper got a B+.
Here is a quote to wet your appetite:
By maintaining the purposeful, orderly and teleological nature of creation as it existed in the Christian worldview and rejecting the God who had dictated those purposes, men and women were left to themselves to determine what this purpose should be. Without the commandments and biblical suppositions acting as a restraint on evil, humanity saw some of its worst. Lamarck’s teleology had justified the concept of race. The development of the perfect race of human, as determined by environmental factors, had opened the door to declare the Caucasian as the crown jewel of creation rather than, as in Christianity, the whole of humanity itself. As such, the beginning acceptance of evolutionary thought in a distinctly Christian heritage resulted in the justification of the atrocities of imperialism and racial slavery within the past few centuries. This can be noted in contrast to the purely economical and military slavery that was accepted prior to enlightenment thought.
This post was contributed by Scott F. Ferguson at the Evangelical Church of Fairport in Rochester, NY. I am adding a link to a clip from a sermon where I heard a similar commentary to what Scott is criticizing.
Listen Here: Chuck Smith on John 9
I heard a well-known radio bible teacher a while back working through the opening verses of the 9th chapter of John. You know the story. This is the record of the incident of Jesus & his disciples encountering a man blind from birth. They ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2, HCSB). “Jesus answered, ‘Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.'” (v. 3, KJV)
At this point the teacher chimed in and said, “Now I believe the [KJV] translators made a mistake here. I don’t think there should be a colon after ‘parents’. I prefer a period there.” Then he went on to say how in the Greek there is no punctuation (true in the manuscripts) but that it is added for clarity (also true). By his own admission on previous occasions, however, this revered bible teacher doesn’t know Greek (at least not fluently; he knows some Greek words). Granted, I don’t know Greek either.
But I do know that those that actually work on bible translation do know Greek and that they wouldn’t just insert the colon for the fun of it. The underlying sentence structure in the thoughts in vv.2-3 must warrant punctuation like this. Right?
So I did some checking. At the end of this note are the same verses from 13 different bible versions (translations), including the KJV which the radio teacher was using and objected to.
Now, on this teacher’s side, 1 translation (the World English) out of the 13 puts a period at the end of “parents”. Why does he object to the colon?
Because this (he thinks) makes the following clause (v.3) a conclusion, and that by substituting a period for the colon the passage then reads as 2 distinct thoughts: v. 2 concludes Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ burning question about why the man they were facing was born blind, then v. 3 picks up a new thought. But why was this so important to him that v.3 not be a conclusion?
Because his theology does not allow for a God that would purposely see to it (“ordain”, “predestine”, “foreordain”, “decree”) that someone be born blind in order that God can display His own glory by working in/through that person, in spite of overwhelming biblical evidence to the contrary. But I know that this respected church leader believes that God can and does use people for His own glory. In fact, I’m pretty sure this pastor/teacher would say he himself has been used by God for His glory. But I guess for him it is only OK to be used by God if you agree to it first; it is not OK if you don’t.
We have to be so careful when dealing with the Word of God that we don’t import (eisogete) our own ideas/thoughts/concepts or image of God into the pages. I’ve done it myself, and will most certainly do it again. When our personal theology (“I think…, I prefer…”) doesn’t line up with biblical theology, we need an attitude adjustment — we need to adjust our attitude to that of Holy Writ.
“I prefer a period there.” Scary words.
In a prior blog post I recommended Phillip Cary’s book, “Good News for Anxious Christians” where he documents and criticizes what he calls, “the new evangelical theology.” Recently I’ve been in contact with him and he was kind enough to answer a few questions. Enjoy!
Dr. Cary- Thanks for allowing me to ask a few questions! My wife and I are recent refugees of the new evangelicalism that you speak of in your book and I am very much appreciative of the work you’ve done to document and address it.
1. What is your theological and church background?
I’m a member of an Anglican church. My favorite theologian is Martin Luther, but I’m not exactly a Lutheran. There are a whole lot of assumptions that go with being a Lutheran that I don’t share, because I did not grow up Lutheran and have never been a member of a Lutheran church. I’ve just read a whole lot of Luther and think he’s understood something terribly important and beautiful about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What Luther’s theology has in common with Anglicanism is a tendency to find God in Word and Sacrament–in the external means of grace by which our Lord Jesus Christ gives himself to us.
2. What is the role of the church in alleviating the anxieties brought on by the new evangelicalism?
If you go to a church that finds Christ in his Word, then you won’t have the anxieties I talk about in my book (Good News for Anxious Christians). Everything here depends on the direction in which you turn your attention. A church which really knows the Gospel is constantly turning to find Christ in his Word and Sacrament, in preaching and prayer, in liturgy and hymnody, and in mutual exhortation and encouragement. It is full of “tidings of comfort and joy,” as the old Christmas carol puts it, because it is full of the good news about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done and suffered for our sake.
“Remember– Christ our savior was born on Christmas day” as the carol says. And then it proceeds to tell and sing and celebrate the Christmas story. This has the effect of turning our attention away from ourselves and toward Christ, which relieves us of many, many anxieties. The burden of our Christian lives rests on him, because we find our lives in him, and he has done all things well. (Just listen to what the carol says. It’s preaching you the Gospel). That doesn’t mean the Christian life isn’t hard work. It does mean it’s work we don’t have to be anxious about.
3. How can you convince anxious Christians that the church is a necessity for their growth as Christians?
No doubt the best way is invite them into a vibrant church where the Gospel of Christ is preached and the new evangelical theology is not. That is to say, find a church where your attention is directed to Jesus Christ, instead of a church which is all about your life (or your heart or your experience–all code words for dear old ME, which is the real focus of the new evangelical theology). The churches that try to be “relevant” by talking about ME all the time are in fact deeply boring, because we come to church to hear about Christ, not ourselves. So if all you hear is preachers trying to be “relevant” and “applicable to my life,” it will be hard to see the point of going to church at all.
Even how you aim to find Christ is different in a good church. A good church does not get you looking to your life to find Christ but rather shows you how to find your life in Christ, locating yourself within his story, the Gospel. (“Ah! Simon Peter, the chief of the apostles, the one who repeatedly denies Christ! That’s me, alright. But look what our Lord Jesus does with him in the end!”) The difference is palpable, you can taste it. Instead of defining Christ by your experience (which is enough to make any sensible person anxious) you define your own life by looking at what the Gospel tells you about Christ. And once you’ve tasted this, you’ll know in your bones why you go to church.
4. In your book you offer Christians the gospel in place of the bad ideas that make them anxious. Do you believe that the gospel of the new evangelical theology differs at all from the gospel of historic Christianity? and if so, how?
The new evangelical theology doesn’t really have a gospel. It assumes that you’ve already been saved, so you don’t really need the gospel anymore. Therefore, instead of giving you Jesus Christ, it gives you lots of supposedly “practical” advice that makes you anxious, because it’s supposed to transform your life and give you a bunch of wonderful new experiences. The result is you feel there must be something wrong with you if you’re not having those wonderful, life-changing experiences all the time.
To stave off that anxiety, you’re given a lot of “how to”‘s — how to listen for God in your heart, how to find God’s will for your life, how to “let” God work in your life (as if he couldn’t do do anything unless you allow him, hich makes him more helpless than anyone else in the world) etc., etc. So the closest you get to a gospel is the advice that tells you: if you use this “how to” then you won’t feel so guilty for being a second-rate Christian. And it turns out these how-to’s are not only far from the Gospel, they are far from anything in the Bible, including the Law of God, the ten commandments and all the other good words by which God gives us good work to do.
5. It has been a culture shock to my wife and I as we transitioned out of what you call a “consumerist church” in your book to a church that adheres to the historic faith. What expectations about church would you address to help prepare others making a similar change?
Expect to find Christ outside yourself, the way you find any real person. For you don’t encounter real people by looking inside your own heart; you look at them in their own flesh, which is an external thing. That is why Christ came to us in the flesh and gave us his body. Expect to find Christ in bodily ways, including in the sacrament of his body and blood.
Also, expect to come to know Christ the way you know a real person. Real people have their own thoughts, and you can’t learn what they are if you don’t listen. That means you’re hearing a word that comes from outside your own heart. I’m talking about knowing trustworthy people, here, not trying to see through a liar. Good people have a right to a say about themselves, and you have to listen their word if you want to know who they really are.
Expect to hear such a word, over and over again, in the preaching and teaching and singing of the Gospel. It comes with a kind of newness, even when it’s familiar. It’s welcome, even though it may come as a reminder, even a bit of a shock, like when we begin to sing Christmas carols again every year: “Oh yes, that story again. How could I have forgotten? Time to get ready for the great celebration, the birthday of the King of kings who came for us in the dark and the cold when we were lost, when the angels brought us tidings of comfort and joy…”
For the word comes to us from outside our hearts, but of course it doesn’t stay there. Once you’ve heard what your Beloved has to say for himself, you keep it in your heart — so that it becomes deeply familiar, a part of who you are — and yet you don’t get tired of hearing it again and again. So expect to hear the same good news over and over again: celebrating every year the same holiday, hearing the same story, singing the same carols, so that his Word gets deeper and deeper in you, which means he gets deeper and deeper in you.
Expect to hear the word of Christ, not like a theory you have to apply to your life (as if you have to do something to make it “relevant”) but rather like a repeated proclamation of good news which simply invites you to believe that this wonderful stuff about Christ is actually true. And bear in mind that ultimately it is Christ who is actually saying this to you, through the mouth of the preacher and the choir and your brothers and sisters in the church. To hear the Gospel is thus like hearing a wedding vow, in which your Bridegroom gives all of himself to you–body, soul, divinity, all that he is. You find him in the promise by which he gives you nothing less than himself, saying things like “This is my body, given for you” and “You will be me people and I will be your God.”
6. Do you have a blog or personal website?
I thought about it, but realized I just don’t have the time. As it is, people email me questions all the time!
I’ve recently come across a book by Phillip Cary called, “Good News for Anxious Christians.” In it, Phillip Cary fleshes out and criticizes what he calls “the new evangelical theology.” I found the book particularly interesting because Cary addresses many of the dangerous doctrines that modern evangelicals consider to be sound, orthodox, Christianity. The table of contents is what first intrigued me to purchase the book:
- Why You Don’t Have to Hear God’s Voice in Your Heart
- Why You Don’t Have to Believe Your Intuitions Are the Holy Spirit
- Why You Don’t have to “Let God Take Control”
- Why You Don’t Have to “Find God’s Will for Your Life”
- Why You Don’t Have to Be Sure You Have the Right Motivations
- Why You Don’t Have to Worry about Splitting head from Heart
- Why You Don’t Have to Keep Getting Transformed All the Time
- Why You Don’t Always Have to Experience Joy
- Why “Applying It to Your Life” Is Boring
- Why Basing Faith on Experience Leads to a Post-Christian Future
Phillip Cary is a professor of philosophy and director of the philosophy program at Eastern University. He began to see the affect this “new evangelical theology” had on his students who were often anxious and perplexed about the Christian life. He criticizes these ideas as, “a set of interconnected techniques or ritual practices for making God real in your life” and states, “I think they do real harm to people’s lives. So I want to do my best to free Christians from the burden of believing these ideas and trying to put them into practice. I want to convince you, first of all, that these ideas are not really biblical, despite the fact that they are often dressed up in biblical language.” In each chapter of the book he addresses some of the many errors of American evangelicalism and offers Christians the gospel in its stead.
The book is easy to understand, engaging and addresses the real distortions of God’s word in today’s era of Christian history. One topic that Phillip Cary addresses, in chapter one, is the modern notion that “having a personal relationship with Jesus” means hearing God speak in your heart. He states, “This would have astonished most evangelicals a couple of generations ago, who thought of a personal relationship with God as based on God’s word, which they found in Scripture alone.” Cary identifies the source of this falsified notion in the 19th century Holiness and Keswick traditions and explains how it is communicated and taught to Christians today through well intended pastors and the power of group dynamics.
I recently listened to a sermon from a local modern evangelical church where this very idea was espoused. The speaker even quoted a late 19th century Keswick theologian, “F.B Meyers.” Listen to the excerpt
Phillip Cary explains how this kind of teaching, coupled with peer pressure, works to create anxiety, “They wonder what’s wrong with them if they can’t hear God’s voice. ‘Am I not really a Christian,’ they ask, or ‘have I somehow missed out on a real relationship with God?’ So instead of being taught the word of God in holy scripture (which does not require them to do any such thing) they are left anxiously trying to figure out which of the voices in their hearts is God–because that’s what everyone else is doing.”
I highly recommend this book to anyone reforming out of modern evangelicalism and as a challenge to those still immersed in it. Each chapter is packed with insight into the errors of “the new evangelical theology” and what it looks like to replace those errors with the refreshing Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is my summary and response to the “Priority Of The Word” chapter in Chuck Smith’s book, “Calvary Chapel Distinctives.”
This chapter gives an explanation as to why Calvary Chapel has chosen to teach through the bible book by book, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. Smith claims that it is important to teach the “whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).” He believes teaching from cover to cover (Genesis to Revelation) is the best way to do it.
Chuck Smith is not against topical sermons (p. 51). He believes churches that are ONLY committed to topical sermons are prone to leave out important topics that they feel might be boring, difficult or controversial. Smith asserts, “If you’re only preaching topically, you may also tend to avoid controversial or difficult topics, and the people won’t gain a well-balanced view of God’s truth. So the value of going straight through the bible is that you can say, ‘I have not shunned to declare to you all the counsel of God’ (p. 52).”
According to Chuck Smith in this chapter, if a person were to leave out difficult or controversial topics they would be guilty of not preaching the whole counsel of God and would fail at presenting a well-balanced view of God’s truth. However, it was only one chapter ago, or four pages prior, that Smith made the opposite claim! He admitted to leaving out controversial topics for the purpose of maintaining a balanced view. He states, “Some people object because they feel that I gloss over certain passages of Scripture, and they’re correct. But glossing over controversial issues is often deliberate because there are usually two sides. And I have found that it’s important not to be divisive and not allow people to become polarized on issues, because the moment they are polarized, there’s division (p. 48).”
This leaves us with the following conclusions:
- It’s possible to preach the bible book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, Genesis through Revelation and STILL gloss over controversial issues, topics and passages of Scripture as Smith admitted to doing.
- A particular method of preaching does not guarantee that a particular preacher will be faithful with the text or won’t gloss over controversial issues (as was his premise in this chapter).
- Based on Chuck Smith’s own standards, and his own admission in the prior chapter: Calvary Chapel does NOT “declare the whole counsel of God.”
- Calvary Chapel’s ministry philosophy isn’t very consistent.
See also prior related post: Calvary Chapel Verse by Verse Teaching Through the Bible
This is my summary and response to the “Grace Upon Grace” chapter in Chuck Smith’s book, “Calvary Chapel Distinctives.”
This chapter was written to document the stance Calvary Chapel holds on the concept of grace. Early in the chapter Chuck Smith defines the scope of grace by stating that it is required for salvation, daily living and the restoration of fallen individuals, specifically pastors (pg. 41, 43).” He also goes on to define grace through a series of examples, both from the bible and those he has experienced in real life.
Smith believes that because we have been shown grace, we also ought to demonstrate it to others (pg. 42). Smith gets angry at Satan when he hears of a gifted minister who has fallen. It’s his desire to restore the pastor so as not to give Satan the victory (pg. 43). In this regard he admits to having made errors in the past and doesn’t doubt he will err again, “I have taken chances, brought fellows on staff who had supposedly repented and later on, the same traits were still there. I’ve erred. And I probably will make mistakes in the future. But I will tell you this, if I’m going to err, I want to err on the side of grace rather than on the side of judgment (pg. 47).” He quotes Matt 7:1 which states that we ought not judge. In his view, it would be legalistic not to restore a fallen minister.
Smith believes that there are some churches that are legalistic (pg. 41), specifically those churches who hold to “reformed theology.” He states, “I have found, for the most part, that when a person gets heavy into ‘Reformation Theology,’ they usually get heavy into legalism. (pg. 48)” It’s these people he states that, “want to make sure the ‘T’s’ are crossed and the ‘I’s” are dotted just right.” He believes ‘Reformation Theology’ has some good points, but “so does a porcupine (pg. 48).”
Smith acknowledges that many of the accusations against his glossing over certain passages of scripture are true and states that they are deliberate. He reasons, “it’s important not to be divisive and not to allow people to become polarized on issues, because the moment they are polarized, there’s division (pg. 48).” He then cites the classic example in understanding the sovereignty of God vs. the responsibility of man. Smith says, “The Bible actually teaches both…People who become divisive on the issue claim that we can’t believe both (pg. 49).” Smith insists that if the bible teaches both, so should we! He then alludes to a Calvary Chapel pastor, George Bryson, who came out with a pamphlet on Calvinism entitled “The Five Points of Calvinism”. On the cover of the book there is a balance scale with John Calvin on one side and John 3:16 on the other. Smith asks, “Which side would you rather stand for (pg. 49)?”
Who would argue that we don’t need grace or shouldn’t demonstrate grace to others? Chuck Smith is right, the bible speaks of grace and tells us that if we’ve been forgiven much we also ought to forgive as well. As Christians we also ought to avoid legalism. However, the problem is not that Chuck Smith advocates grace and despises legalism. The problem is that the grace and legalism Smith advocates and despises is not the grace and legalism demonstrated or defined in scripture.
First, we should define what legalism and grace is and isn’t. Legalism isn’t a desire to keep the commands of God. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me (John 14:21).” Legalism is also not being concerned about the truth of scripture, its application or wanting to be obedient. ALL scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction (2 Tim 3:16) and Paul encourages Timothy to keep a close watch on his teaching, his character and not to despise doctrine (1 Tim 4:11-16). Instead, legalism is relying on works for salvation (Gal 3:3), it’s denying Christ as sufficient for salvation and depending on the keeping of the law (either biblical or man-made). Legalism is also binding the conscience of man with the traditions of men and commands which are unbiblical.
Christ did not die so that we would be free from obedience to God and continue in sin. Christ died to free us from the slavery of sin so that we might be slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15-18). Legalism is a heart issue. If we are obedient because we are trying to earn our salvation it is legalism. We ought to be obedient though, not to save ourselves, but because of the grace of God that has already obtained our salvation. Titus 2:11-12 tells us, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” It’s the grace of God that actually trains us and motivates us towards obedience. Obedience and correction is not something to be despised!
Chuck Smith claims that certain churches who do not restore fallen men to the pastorate are being legalistic. He says we ought not judge whether or not they are truly repentant. Unfortunately, he misses the point concerning the qualification of elders and pastors. Elders and pastors do not disqualify themselves because they are unrepentant. They disqualify themselves because they have committed sins deemed inappropriate as ministers of the gospel. It is not legalism to obey scripture when it is clear in this area (see Titus 1:6-9; 1 Tim 3:1-6). A pastor who has committed adultery or has disobedient children may very well be repentant and forgiven, but he is nevertheless disqualified from the pastorate. If it were possible for Satan to be victorious it wouldn’t happen by the church taking heed to the biblical qualifications of elders as Smith indicates. The contrary!
Concerning the tendency of “Reformation Theology” to want to get all their ‘T’s’ crossed and ‘I’s’ dotted. Guilty as charged! But we follow the greatest reformer, Christ the King, who said Himself concerning the Hebrew equivalent of the crossing the T and dotting the I, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Christ Came to Fulfill the Law Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:13-19).”
I would very much like to comment on Chuck Smith’s short treatise on the sovereignty of God vs. the responsibility of men. But I feel at this point he is just demonstrating his desire to attack all things “reformation theology.” Addressing his misrepresentations would take several long paragraphs. In short “Calvinism” does not deny the responsibility of men, in fact it affirms it above and beyond any sort of responsibility Smith attributes to men in this chapter. Chuck Smith grossly misrepresents the position of reformed theology and over simplifies it. It is not a matter of John 3:16 on one side and a random man in history on another. If you are interested in understanding the position I would recommend a very good and short article on “The Doctrines of Grace” by Charles Wingad.
This is my summary and response to the “Building The Church God’s Way” chapter in Chuck Smith’s book, “Calvary Chapel Distinctives.”
In this chapter Chuck Smith lays out his model for church growth. He believes that the church is God’s and that it is God’s responsibility to add to the church as desired. Smith writes, “We don’t try to motivate people carnally, and we aren’t apt to shout at the congregation (pg 33).” It has been his experience that many churches desperate for growth attempt to bring it about via carnal means. In his past experience, when he was in a denomination, Chuck Smith recalls the pressure he was under to build the church. He was using every kind of device suggested and offered (pg. 36). Understanding the error of these ways Smith coins a phrase that has somewhat become a Calvary Chapel proverb, “whenever you strive to gain, you must then strive to maintain what you’ve gained (pg. 36).”
Calvary Chapel is therefore against church growth movements, programs and the use of spiritual and emotional excitement and the hyping of the gifts of the Spirit in order to draw crowds. He believes that eventually you will always need to out do yourself and bring about more “exotic spiritual experiences to hold the crowd you have drawn through these kind of phenomena (pg. 37).” Smith cites barking in the spirit, uncontrollable laughter and roaring like a lion as examples of attempts to draw people by spiritual excitement (pg. 38).
Instead Calvary Chapel focuses on what they believe to be “teaching through the bible.” Chuck Smith believes that God honors his word and that “it is just the Word of God, which is alive and powerful and ministers to the spirit of people (pg. 39).”
Any discerning person would agree with much, if not all, of what Chuck Smith says here. What many might miss however is that the source of his conclusions and convictions are not biblical, but experiential. In other words, he has not derived his convictions from the bible but from past errors and mistakes he has observed or experienced himself. It is this reason why I believe Chuck Smith has thus continued various other means of “carnal” motivation to draw crowds and entice people.
Chuck Smith is guilty of an overt and overly strong focus on end-times prophecy, a fascination and curiosity prevalent in our modern culture and displayed in modern cinema. Smith himself had gone as far as to make a false prediction of the date of rapture as well other embarrassing statements in several of his books published in the 1970’s. If anyone is guilty of hype-mongering it is Chuck Smith! Calvary Chapel is also known for their rock concert worship services and Charles Finney inspired crusades. In these ways Calvary Chapel violates sola scriptura’s regulative principle of worship.
In contradiction to his statement concerning his disinterest in enticing crowds through improper means, Smith presents his own tactics for attracting people later in the same book. His tactic is doctrinal ambiguity. He states, “You know the beautiful thing about being called Calvary Chapel? People don’t know where you really stand… Calvary Chapel has a sort of mystique about it. “What do these people believe?” “I don’t know, but let’s go find out.” And the whole field is ours. You want to fish in as big a pond as you can find. When you’re marketing something, you want the largest market appeal possible. So don’t chop up the market and say, “Well, we’re just going to fish in this little market here.” Keep the market broad. (pg. 49, 50)” His statements on doctrinal ambiguity for the purpose of marketing are just another unbiblical method for church growth. This is the growth strategy of the seeker sensitive movement.
I agree with Smiths concerning the rejection of the stated church growth strategies. What I find ironic however is that this chapter reveals his agreement with the church growth movement’s source of knowledge (experience and human wisdom). He disagrees with one set of church growth strategies (Charismania) and proposes his own “better” ones. The fear of “going too far” or the consequence of “striving to maintain” is not the biblical motivation for avoiding the ‘carnal’ means listed in this chapter. Churches who embrace the reformed doctrine of sola scriptura maintain that everything God desires in worship is regulated and expressed in his word. By rejecting the doctrine of the reformers and the great biblical scholarship since the churches founding, Calvary Chapel finds itself in the same position as all other modern evangelicals. They must begin building their distinctives from their own ideas and experience. Chuck Smith is the CEO with all the great ideas and wisdom. It is a great irony that in Smith’s boast of teaching the bible alone he has derived his conclusions and regulations not from exegesis but from self. It is a sort of pseudo-sola-scriptura that points at the bible but finds its real source of truth in experience.