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Calvary Chapel Distinctives: Empowered By The Spirit

by randy on July 5th, 2010

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


Calvary Chapel holds that there are three distinct relationships that one can have with the Holy Spirit. One relationship exists prior to conversion, another at conversion and the last is an experience for the believer sometime after conversion. Chuck Smith builds his case by suggesting that there are three prepositions used in scripture when referring to the Holy Spirit. Those prepositions are “para,” “en,” and “epi” or “with,” “in,” and “upon” respectively. Smith finds two of these words together in John 14:16-17 where it states, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you (pg. 28).” Smith finds support for the third relationship in Acts 1:5, “for John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” and Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you (pg. 30).”

Concerning the first relationship, Smith believes that the Spirit dwells with all unbelievers prior to conversion. It is held by the Calvary Chapel movement that the Holy Spirit is dwelling with all unbelievers for the purpose of “convicting them of sin and convincing him that Jesus Christ is the only answer (pg. 28).”

Chuck Smith believes the second relationship takes place during conversion and is the experience whereby the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the believer. The purpose of the Holy Spirit dwelling in believers is for sanctification. This is the process of conforming every believer into the image of Jesus Christ. Chuck Smith uses 2 Corinthians 3:18 as a reference for this (pg. 29).

According to Chuck Smith the third relationship can take place at conversion, but most of the time it takes place as an experience in the life of a believer after conversion (pg. 32). Smith holds that it is this experience that provides an objective evidence of the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit which allows us to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ (pg. 29). It is also this experience that Chuck Smith believes gives people miraculous gifts such as the gift of tongues. Smith believes the two phrases, “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” are synonymous phrases for the same thing. He also states that all believers, like the early disciples on the day of Pentecost should wait for this second experience prior to engaging in ministry because it is a necessity for it (pg. 31, 32). In Smiths understanding this is an experience distinct from conversion. Some believers have this relationship with the Spirit and some do not. He ends this chapter with a question in bold-text, “DO YOU HAVE IT?”


Whether one believes that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit continue today or have ceased; both charismatics (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg. 763-784) and cessationists with a high regard for the consistency of scripture and its interpretation agree that a two-tiered view of the Christian’s experience with the Holy Spirit is inconsistent with the doctrine of the trinity, and pose inconsistencies to a variety of other doctrines as well. The notion that Christians should seek a second experience or Holy Spirit baptism, like at Pentecost, is a short sighted understanding of what actually took place on the day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts and the promise of the Holy Spirit without measure to all believers (Jn 3:34). Chuck Smith holds to a doctrine of the Holy Spirit invented in 1901 and made popular during the 1970’s pentecostal movement (Grudem, pg. 763).

The Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost was the fulfillment of the long awaited, Old Testament, prophecy and promise of the New Covenant. The disciples’ Pentecost experience is not intended to be a normative, on-going experience for the church, for the obvious reason that they, uniquely, span the period of transition from the old to new covenant faith. Their experience is epoch-crossing, and consequently atypical and non-paradigmatic in nature (Sinclair Ferguson, “The Holy Spirit”, Pg. 80). The baptism (or coming upon) of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:8 is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit alluded to throughout all of scripture, including Smith’s cited passages in John 14 where the prepositions with and in are located. In the Book of Acts we see the fulfillment of the promise, not a distinct, separate experience.

Based on this chapter in Smith’s book, the anticipated response from Calvary Chapel would be, “Why then do we find this second blessing as a re-occurring event not just at Pentecost in Judea (Acts 2), but also in Samaria (Acts 8 ).” A proof Smith uses on pages 27 and 28 of his distinctives. In order to make sense of the book of Acts, we must not forget the introductory remarks in Luke’s writing. It is precisely this epoch-crossing event that he is documenting at this particular point in the history of salvation. Luke lays out the extraordinary acts of the Apostles and transition as God extends his Kingdom from the nation of Israel in Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It should be obvious now why Luke follows this pattern in emphasizing first Judea (Acts 2), then Samaria (Acts 8 ) and again a similar experience amongst the Gentiles, specifically Cornelius (Acts 10) after citing Peter’s vision signifying the gentile inclusion (to the ends of the earth). God had made it clear at this particular point in historia salutis (the history of salvation) that the promise would extend the whole earth, for God so loved the world (John 3:16). It is interesting to note that Cornelius consequently received the Spirit at conversion, not as a second experience. Later Paul uses the same Spirit baptism language indicating that it is normative at conversion (1 Corinthians 12:13) in presenting the case that no member of the body is less important than another, all are endowed with gifts which vary. We will see that the prophecy concerning the Holy Spirit is not given to SOME Christians with measure as Chuck Smith proposes (requiring a second experience to receive His fullness), but is given without measure at conversion (John 3:34) and is intended for ALL of God’s covenant people for the purpose of fulfilling the great commission.

In order to understand what took place on the day of Pentecost one must first look at the Holy Spirit’s role throughout the entirety of scripture. We find mention of the Spirit of God as early as the creation event in Genesis 1:2. The presence of the divine spirit in creation was to order and complete what has been planned in the mind of God. This is precisely the role of the Spirit in other portions of scripture as well. In redemption: the Father sends, the Son comes, the Spirit vindicates (1 Tim 3:16); the Father plans, the Son sacrifices and rises, the Spirit applies (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Throughout Old Testament teaching we also find another thread: the Spirit of God is the executive of the powerful presence of God in the governing of the created order (Ferguson, Pg. 21).

Sinclair Furguson says, “The Lord’s power-presence is revealed in his Spirit with a view to fulfilling a variety of goals in redemptive history. He not only carries individuals beyond their normal physical capacities; he gives them abilities which extend beyond their native wit. Thus he distributes gifts of statesmanship and craftsmanship. Joseph and Daniel, the two leading figures with savoir faire in the Old Testament, were men in whom ‘the spirit’ of another world was seen to dwell in unusually great measure (Gn. 41:38; Dn. 4:8-9; 5:11-14). Both displayed the characteristics which would be fully expressed in the activity of the messianic Spirit later described in Isaiah 11:1-5 (Ferguson, Pg. 21).”

We see the same thread present in the men who were gifted spiritually for the purpose of building the temple (Ex. 31:1-11; 35:30-35), as well as Moses and the elders in governing Israel (Num. 11:25). The ministry of the Spirit has in view the conforming of all things to God’s will and ultimately to his own character and glory. The problem however, after the fall was that it was limited to specific people and with specific measure, particular for the purpose of bringing about restoration and reconciliation throughout redemptive history.

With the old covenant limit to specific people and with specific measure in mind, it is here that the new covenant promise concerning the Holy Spirit in the Pentecost fulfillment makes sense. Ferguson says, “The Spirit had been active among God’s [OT] people; but his activity was enigmatic, sporadic, theocratic, selective in and some respects external. The prophets longed for better days. Moses desired, but did not see, a fuller and universally widespread coming of the Spirit on God’s people (Nu. 11:29). By contrast, in the anticipated new covenant, the Spirit would be poured out in a universal manner, dwelling in them personally and permanently (cf. Joel 2:28ff.; Ezk. 36:24-32) (Ferguson, Pg. 30)”

It is these last days (Acts 2:17-18) that God has poured out his Spirit on all people. Ferguson states, “The Spirit was then ‘poured out’ by Christ in unrestrained measure, and distributed without geographical and ethnic limitation, ‘on all people.’ Implied in this is the principle that the divinely given, but temporary, distinguished features of the Mosaic covenantal economy were now rendered obsolete. This is the thrust of Acts 2:17-18. In the Old Covenant, the typical effect of the Spirit’s coming was prophecy, with its various modes of production (cf. Nu. 11:24-29; 1 Sa. 10:10-11). It was, generally speaking, limited to only a few, almost exclusively men. Now, in the new covenant, the boundaries of the Mosaic economy within which the Spirit had, by and large, previously manifested himself are rendered obsolete. Both sons and daughters prophesy; young men have visions, old men have dreams. These were, of course, modes of communicating the knowledge of God under the old covenant. Now, in Christ, the old distinctions are nullified. Now all of the Lord’s people possess the knowledge of  God formerly experienced only by the prophets. This is exactly what Moses himself had longed for, although it could never have been experienced under the Mosaic economy: ‘I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them’ (Nu. 11:29). Now it was a reality. (Fergason, Pg 62-63)”


It is clear that Smith takes his prior twentieth century Pentecostal theology and proof-texts it. He points out three prepositions “with”, “in” and “upon” as the justification for this view. It should be noted that:

  1. The presence of three different words, especially as infrequently as they occur and without sufficient context is never justification for the development of a new doctrine that adds to the Christian life experiences to be sought after. This is typical of the modern age that emphasizes feelings and experiences over absolute truth; in particular the word of God. As Christian’s we are not to be seeking after experiences, signs or wonders. The fact that we are believers is evidence that we have an anointing from the Holy One (1 John 2:20, 27 cf. John 14:26). It is obvious by the context of the prepositions used that the writers of scripture were not intending to communicate differing Holy Spirit experiences.
  2. He fails to recognize the true Christocentric nature of Pentecost in bringing the entire earth into subjection to Christ’s kingdom. While Smith would not disagree that the promise of the fullness of the Holy Spirit is for all believers; he would separate believers into two categories: those who are capable of fulfilling the great commission, having experienced the second blessing, and those who are not and are either unaware or must seek it.

In reality, the promise of the Holy Spirit empowers us to obey the cultural mandate restored and recapitulated in the great commission. Instead he attributes it to a 20th century existential Christian experience. The old covenant limited the Holy Spirit to specific people in measure in one way, and Chuck Smith with his myopic pentecostal doctrine limits and measures it in another. It seems Smith misses the point of Pentecost and in the heart of the counter-reformation creates a second class of Christian citizens (ie. priests and laymen) and continues to live in the old dispensation where the spirit came upon select individuals.

Suggested reading for more information:

“The Holy Spirit” by Sinclair B. Ferguson

  • Fergusons treatment on the prophetic fulfillment of tongues is particularly interesting on Pg. 59 in his address of the re-creation and reversal of Babel.
  • His treatment on the Holy Spirit’s role in conviction and conversion (sin, righteousness and judgment) is also related to this chapter (pg. 69)
  • The hypostatic union in orthodox trinitarian doctrine (pg. 28) and the danger of Arian modalism (pg. 31)
  • And of course the significance of Pentecost today (pg. 79 on).

See also:
“Perspectives on Pentecost” by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

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