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Calvary Chapel Distinctives: Preface

by randy on June 13th, 2010

This is my summary and response to the “Preface” chapter in Chuck Smith’s book, “Calvary Chapel Distinctives.”


The preface sets out the purpose of the book: to layout those distinctives that make Calvary Chapel unique amongst other Bible-believing churches. Smith’s claim is that the Calvary Chapel movement has found a unique balance between two kinds of churches on completely opposite ends of a spectrum. There are churches who emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but do not have a strong emphasis on the teaching of the word of God. There are other churches who have a strong emphasis on teaching the word of God but do not believe the gifts are for today.

Smith makes the statement, “And so it’s important to understand the Biblical principles that make up the picture of why God has allowed us to exist and grow (pg. 1).” The assertion is that the variety of churches that exist in this world exist to appeal to folks of differing personalities. “God, desiring to reach and bless all kinds of people, seems to enjoy having a wide variety of churches so that everybody’s needs might be met, from the highly emotional to the very formal, and all those in between (pg. 2).” Calvary Chapel finds a balance somewhere within this spectrum. The purpose of this book and these distinctives: to declare, establish and make known Calvary Chapel’s position within the body of Christ.


Smith seems to presuppose the idea that there is no right or wrong way, or that we cannot know for sure. Therefore, God’s reason for a lack of clarity in certain areas is to allow folks of differing personalities to fit in somewhere. In other words, we’ll never know the truth and distinctions exist for man to decide what he likes best. This underlining theme justifies the establishment of a church based on “good” ideas and personality instead of scripture.

Throughout the book we will see two conflicting themes. On the one hand, Chuck Smith claims to only take a stand on the essentials, those areas where scripture speaks plainly (pg. 107). On the other hand, he admits at times that the distinctions aren’t always based on scripture. Sometimes, he plainly chalks it up to personality, experience, or good reasoning. We find this theme particularly in the chapter pertaining to church government. Smith states, “We recognize that the New Testament doesn’t give a clear definitive statement of God’s preference for church government (pg. 17).” Yet, Calvary’s government is a distinctive.

The idea that there is no correct or clear teaching in a particular area (non-essentials), it divides, isn’t important or that those areas are subject to the emotions, personalities or the whims of man is the plain and simple fruit of the post-modern era. Not surprising considering Calvary Chapel was born in the culmination of it, the heart of the hippy movement.

Chuck Smith also begins a nasty habit of finding balances between false dichotomies. In other words, he proposes two opposing options in which neither accurately represent the whole. By reducing the options to two purposely flawed possibilities, he easily leads the unsuspecting reader to agree with his “balanced” approach.

Be on the look out for these things as you read through this book.

  1. Josh V. permalink

    These are the last to paragraphs of chapter 5. Does this sounds like some kind of clever marketing scheme or what?

    “You know the beautiful thing about being called Calvary Chapel? People don’t know where you really stand. Put Baptist in your title, and people know where you are, and half the people will never come because it’s a Baptist church. Put Presbyterian in your name, and they know where you stand, and half the people will never come because they know what the Presbyterians believe. Put Nazarene in your name, and immediately they’ve got you pigeon-holed. They know who you are, and they don’t need to go.

    But 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. Fish in the big pond. Fish where they are biting.”

  2. Justin E. permalink

    I was told by a Calvary Chapel elder that “legalism is when you don’t interpret the Bible properly.” I attempted to suggest that legalism is when one extrapolates from the Bible standards of life and deeds which then take on the same authority as the Scripture itself, and he told me I was wrong, end of discussion.

  3. Ben A. permalink

    “Legalism is when you don’t interpret the Bible properly” – this is a misinterpretation of the biblical teaching on legalism.

  4. cathy Rich permalink

    Cease and Desist Legal Order


    To Whom it May Concern:

    After visiting your website, The Word For Today Publishers is requesting a cease and desist legal order requesting you to delete any and all books written by Chuck Smith, published by The Word For Today within 5 days from this writing.

    These books are legally copy written and it is illegal to post them on your website without the express written consent of the Word For Today publishers.

    Thank you for your immediate cooperation in this matter.
    The Word For Today Publishers

  5. randy permalink


    #1) I have not posted any books on my website. The nature of the internet allows me to link to it on yours.

    #2) Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107 ( of the U.S Copyright Law allows for the fair use of copyrighted material for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.

    If you have additional questions, it would serve you well to contact an attorney.

  6. Jason B permalink

    Dear “The Word For Today Publishers”,

    Your actions reek of those similar to administrators of Scientology. I would suggest you site specific examples of where the offense has taken place. Otherwise it looks like Calvary Chapel is trying to squelch freedom of speech (which pretty much falls in line of what the majority cults do).

    Tread carefully,
    Jason B

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