Why I Left Calvary Chapel: a non-denominational denomination
If there is anything that Calvary Chapel prides itself in it’s in the fact that it is non-denominational. An excerpt from a popular Calvary Chapel website states, “Calvary Chapel is a non-denominational church movement focused on the inerrancy of the Bible and the expository teaching from Genesis to Revelation.” From a statement of faith found on many of their sites, “nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their over emphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.”
If there is a distinctive of modernism that is chief of all it is a disdain for truth and doctrine, if I were to put it bluntly I would call it liberalism. The idea that we can not know truth, that it is not important or that it divides rather than unites is paramount to modern evangelicalism. It is a running joke that some churches can get along with a statement of faith that fits on the back of a bulletin. While it’s nice to have a condensed version, it is never acceptable to stop at saying, “we believe in the trinity, the holy spirit, Jesus and spiritual worship…”. What does that mean?! I have found that this is not limited to the non-reformed. This lack of confession is also carried about by churches that boast of “reformation.”
In the book “Calvary Chapel Distinctives” Chuck Smith states, “You know the beautiful thing about being called Calvary Chapel? People don’t know where you really stand… And the whole field is ours… 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).” In a consumer driven world it is sad that churches expect and encourage men to make a choice for a church based on externals (music, pep, relevance, simplicity, comedy, lax dress-code, youth, etc…) rather than by what they believe the bible says. There is an acceptable degree of consumerism by which I must find a church in this fallen world and it is only in confessional churches where I have been handed material upon material to read concerning the one thing that counts… DOCTRINE.
Too many churches are aiming at doctrinal ambiguity and hoping to attract people by their atmosphere, cool worship, funny pastor, amneties, young crowd, etc…
I like the fact that reformed churches are confessional and historical, check out the OPC. If I want to know what they believe I can read the westminister confession. It is quite a work! In fact it is a direct product of the reformation and full of scripture for reference. They also have a manual on church discipline, a manual on the deaconate, eldership, etc… Nothing is a surprise. They have been standing on the shoulders of giants since the reformation and have 500 years of experience and mistakes to draw from.
As far as Calvary Chapel is concerned: It is hypocritical for a church that totes unity through anti-doctrinal means to have been formed by a man who found a subjective distaste for his original form of church (doctrine in the so-called ‘non-essentials’) and decided now, with his finite experience, that he will create his own sect that meets these new needs. It is this individualistic, non-submissive, consumer mentality that has permeated the “laymen” and it is precisely for the sake of unity that all men should abandon their modernistic churches and return to historic Christianity.
But the gospel is simple, right? Anyone can pastor a church…
If you have sat under Calvary Chapel teaching long enough you have heard the joke, “you don’t need to go to cemetery, I mean seminary, to become a Pastor.” Studious, intellectual study of the scriptures, theology or anything is not only frowned upon, it’s laughed at…
Donald Van Dyken in “Rediscovering Catechism” writes, ‘Perhaps we can understand how an anti-intellectual, anti doctrinal atmosphere has found acceptance. Christians have watched brilliant theologians mutilate, twist, and pervert the Word of God. Disgusted with these ways of turning the truth of God into a lie, some Christians have eschewed learning itself, whether past and present. “away with theology!” they cry. “Give me the simple gospel!” But is ignorance better than falsehood? Can the great God and Creator whose mighty acts and wondrous character confront us on every page of Scripture be reduced to a scant few beliefs? The simplicity of the gospel is precious, but its simplicity never robs it of its profundity. Place a rose in the hand of a child, and that child can see that it is a beautiful, fragrant flower, a gift of God. But place a rose in the hand of Luther Burbank, and without losing any of his simple, child-like wonder and appreciation for its beauty, he could devote a lifetime exploring its profound complexity… Some Christians harbor the notion that doctrine divides people. But true doctrine unites rather than divides. True doctrine teaches us about Christ, who is the Truth, the Word from above. When we teach and keep the truth about him, we are bound together in an eternal bond. The truth unites us to God and to each other.’
Quoted by Michael Horton, Hofstadter in “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” says, ‘The Puritan ideal of the minister as an intellectual and educational leader was steadily weakened in the face of the evangelical ideal of the minister as a popular … exhorter. Theological education itself became more instrumental. Simple dogmatic formulations were considered sufficient. The churches withdrew from intellectual encounters with the secular world, gave up the idea that religion is a part of the whole life of intellectual experience, and often abandoned the field of rational studies on the assumption that they were the natural province of science alone. By 1853 an outstanding clergyman complained that there was “an impression, somewhat general, that an intellectual clergyman is deficient in piety, and that an eminently pious minister is deficient in intellect.”‘ Horton comments, “By the time of the Second Awakening (beginning in the last quarter of the eighteenth century through first quarter of the nineteenth), the existential act of faith replaced the objective content of faith in popular revivals. People wanted to decide for themselves which church came closest to their views. Sects proliferated. ‘The idea of a historical continuity in the life of the Church,’ says Hofstadter, ‘ carries no weight whatever for the sect consciousness.’ In fact, ’since there need be only a shadow of confessional unity in the denominations, the rational discussion of theological issues- in the past a great source of intellectual discipline in the churches- came to be regarded as a distraction, as a divisive force.’”
I will always champion of unity. Paul commanded, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” While this has been taken by modernists to mean that doctrinal discussions or debates are dangerous- we should never give in to such liberal folly. This is how, as I will write in the future, a church such as Calvary Chapel can pride itself in “teaching through the bible” yet miss the serious implications of the gospel (see: Priority of the Word). This is why you find such inconsistency in a preachers understanding of the gospel from Calvary Chapel to Calvary Chapel. Some teach a false man-centered gospel and others, closer to the truth, teach a /near/ accurate God-centered gospel (yes there are some faithful men in Calvary Chapel).