Skip to content

Calvary Chapel Distinctives: God’s Model for the Church

by randy on June 17th, 2010

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


Chuck Smith points out that church history has proven to be a tragic failure (pg. 9). There have been many horrible things done in the name of Jesus Christ under the banner of the Church. Even less than sixty years after the church was established we find gnostic heresy creeping in, the establishment of a priesthood and the establishment of “church organization,” all of which, “Jesus expressed His displeasure with.” Smith states, “For the most part, the church had failed by the end of the first century (pg. 10).”

Smith then draws a parallel between church history and fallen man, “so you can’t look at church history and find the model for the church, just like you can’t look at the history of mankind and find God’s divine intention for man.”  Therefore, “The divine ideal is found in the book of Acts (pg 10).” He also states, “Looking at the book of Acts, I believe we see the church as God intended it to be (pg. 11).”

The reason Chuck Smith believes this to be the case is because throughout the book of Acts we continually find people being led by the Holy Spirit. He cites at least a dozen examples of people being led by the Holy Spirit. He also tells us that Acts 2:42 contains four basic functions of the early church: “Continuing steadfast in the apostles doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer.” Smith states that if these four elements are instituted God will meet every other need (pg. 11).

Smith indicates that denominations who lose focus on these four elements tend to focus on Church growth and various other programs instead. He finds the early church making the same church growth strategy mistake in the book of Acts. They implemented a failing benevolence program for the widows (pg. 13).


Chuck Smith makes the claim (A) that horrific things have occurred under the guise of the church throughout history, including several churches in the book of Revelation. He inappropriately draws the unrelated conclusion (B) that we cannot look anywhere else but the book of Acts for our model. It is this church that he states serves as the divine ideal (pg. 10). Then he later states that other denominations and churches have wrongly followed the failing book of Acts strategy of Church growth in their “benevolence program for the widows (pg. 12-13).”  This chapter serves as an excellent exercise for someone learning to identify logical fallacies and contradictions.

Not only does he plainly insist the church failed in the first century contrary to Jesus’ words that, “the gates of Hades would not prevail against it (Matt 16:18),” but Smith also insists the book of Acts church was the divine ideal despite later acknowledging it made mistakes we shouldn’t follow either. I’m at a loss for words.

Furthermore, can someone explain why, if the book of Acts serves as the divine ideal for the church must we derive our formulation of church government from the Moses model in the book of Exodus (pg. 20)? I do not want to get ahead of myself considering the chapter on church government is next; but the book of Acts does contain several specific examples of church government.

We have a congregational election for the deaconate, initiated by the elders, in Acts 6. We have the elders teaching and formulating doctrine. We have a model for dealing with doctrinal disagreement amongst elders in Acts 15; note: even the Apostles were not exempt from being subject to the council of elders. Now if we make the assumption that the early church DID have a clear model for church government, believe that scripture doesn’t contradict itself, and acknowledge the other books of the bible, then we can very easily formulate a biblical model for church government! I’ll save that discussion for the next chapter.

In this and prior chapters Smith is also guilty of proof-texting. Proof-texting is the assumption that acceptable doctrine is only found in concise, ordered, statements or verses in scripture. A Jehovah Witness might attempt the proof-texting fallacy to discredit the doctrine of the trinity by asking, “where in scripture does the bible say God is a trinity.” Unless the Christian is allowed to tie together various principles and truths throughout all of scripture, proving the trinity by proof-texting is an impossibility. There is no one concise verse that says it all.

Chuck Smith assumes the proof-texting method when he chooses one book out of 66 for his church model. He also proof-texts by pointing out the four foundational elements of the church from Acts 2:42. By finding one verse that contained several points, he fallaciously adds credibility to his “book of acts only” ecclesiology. What is interesting from those “four foundational elements that guarantee God’s blessing” is that they list only one of two sacraments; baptism is missing. It is also missing the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. One must admit from the context that Luke never intended Acts 2:42 to be an all inclusive four keys to the ideal church. One would do better to take Acts 2:42 and the many directives for worship found in between Genesis – Revelation as a whole.

It becomes apparent very quickly that though Chuck Smith identifies the book of Acts as “God’s divine ideal” there is absolutely nothing from it that he uses as his model. The chapter in this book serves absolutely no purpose at all except to convince an uncritical audience of a meaningless idea that Calvary Chapel is a continuation of the first century, book of Acts church that stands above and outside of history as the only non-tragic church to have ever existed.

A short comment on Chuck Smith’s statement, “so you can’t look at church history and find the model for the church, just like you can’t look at the history of mankind and find God’s divine intention for man.” This comment displays the myopic nature of modern evangelicalism. If we allow scripture to define the history of mankind then yes, it clearly states God’s divine intention for man. Similarly, if we allow scripture to define the history of God’s people then it has much to say concerning the model for the church as well. For the Christian, history is not a separate, secular, entity. True history finds its epistemological value in scripture.

Chuck would have us stand on his shoulders rather than acknowledge the rich biblical scholarship of the historic church at large. I think I sense a new pope emerging.

  1. Mike M. permalink

    Again Randy, you did a great job describing the problems with CC thinking. Moreover, you presented many scriptural solutions. Thanks!

  2. Ed T. permalink

    Paul’s instructions to the churches and in particular his pastoral epistles give us a more complete model for the church. I can’t speak personally on CC polity, but your response is well stated.

  3. Michael A. permalink

    I would think you would be a little sensitive to those who are your friends here and are Calvary Chapel attenders.

  4. Mike M. permalink

    Hi Michael, just a quick question for you: I haven’t sensed a lack of sensitivity on Randy’s part. I think the tone has been great and he is really dealing with many of the problems in CC’s theology. I would encourage you, in love, to step back and view these blogs objectively. In christian love, Mike… BTW, if anything seemed harsh or unloving I would have been the first to point it out to Randy!

  5. Anthony S. permalink

    Sometimes you can go into a church and blatantly see what’s wrong. Graven images, a confession box and a man greeting you named Father Charles holding a little boys hand. If you decided to go there, chances are you will not grow spiritually. Also, when you see things contradicting God’s word would you want to stay? Granted you may like Bingo but what’s more important? Then sometimes you may go to a church and it might not be so blatant. The love seems to be there and the fellowship is good. Yet, you start to see things, hear things and realize your not really being fed. All I can say is dig deeper and search the scriptures.

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS