Skip to content

Calvary Chapel Distinctives: Building The Church God’s Way

by randy on August 6th, 2010

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.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS