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Calvary Chapel Distinctives: Grace Upon Grace

by randy on September 25th, 2010

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


This chapter was written to document the stance Calvary Chapel holds on the concept of grace. Early in the chapter Chuck Smith defines the scope of grace by stating that it is required for salvation, daily living and the restoration of fallen individuals, specifically pastors (pg. 41, 43).” He also goes on to define grace through a series of examples, both from the bible and those he has experienced in real life.

Smith believes that because we have been shown grace, we also ought to demonstrate it to others (pg. 42). Smith gets angry at Satan when he hears of a gifted minister who has fallen. It’s his desire to restore the pastor so as not to give Satan the victory (pg. 43). In this regard he admits to having made errors in the past and doesn’t doubt he will err again, “I have taken chances, brought fellows on staff who had supposedly repented and later on, the same traits were still there. I’ve erred. And I probably will make mistakes in the future. But I will tell you this, if I’m going to err, I want to err on the side of grace rather than on the side of judgment (pg. 47).” He quotes Matt 7:1 which states that we ought not judge. In his view, it would be legalistic not to restore a fallen minister.

Smith believes that there are some churches that are legalistic (pg. 41), specifically those churches who hold to “reformed theology.” He states, “I have found, for the most part, that when a person gets heavy into ‘Reformation Theology,’ they usually get heavy into legalism. (pg. 48)” It’s these people he states that, “want to make sure the ‘T’s’ are crossed and the ‘I’s” are dotted just right.” He believes ‘Reformation Theology’ has some good points, but “so does a porcupine (pg. 48).”

Smith acknowledges that many of the accusations against his glossing over certain passages of scripture are true and states that they are deliberate. He reasons, “it’s important not to be divisive and not to allow people to become polarized on issues, because the moment they are polarized, there’s division (pg. 48).” He then cites the classic example in understanding the sovereignty of God vs. the responsibility of man. Smith says, “The Bible actually teaches both…People who become divisive on the issue claim that we can’t believe both (pg. 49).” Smith insists that if the bible teaches both, so should we! He then alludes to a Calvary Chapel pastor, George Bryson, who came out with a pamphlet on Calvinism entitled “The Five Points of Calvinism”. On the cover of the book there is a balance scale with John Calvin on one side and John 3:16 on the other. Smith asks, “Which side would you rather stand for (pg. 49)?”


Who would argue that we don’t need grace or shouldn’t demonstrate grace to others? Chuck Smith is right, the bible speaks of grace and tells us that if we’ve been forgiven much we also ought to forgive as well. As Christians we also ought to avoid legalism. However, the problem is not that Chuck Smith advocates grace and despises legalism. The problem is that the grace and legalism Smith advocates and despises is not the grace and legalism demonstrated or defined in scripture.

First, we should define what legalism and grace is and isn’t. Legalism isn’t a desire to keep the commands of God. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me (John 14:21).” Legalism is also not being concerned about the truth of scripture, its application or wanting to be obedient. ALL scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction (2 Tim 3:16) and Paul encourages Timothy to keep a close watch on his teaching, his character and not to despise doctrine (1 Tim 4:11-16). Instead, legalism is relying on works for salvation (Gal 3:3), it’s denying Christ as sufficient for salvation and depending on the keeping of the law (either biblical or man-made). Legalism is also binding the conscience of man with the traditions of men and commands which are unbiblical.

Christ did not die so that we would be free from obedience to God and continue in sin. Christ died to free us from the slavery of sin so that we might be slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15-18). Legalism is a heart issue. If we are obedient because we are trying to earn our salvation it is legalism. We ought to be obedient though, not to save ourselves, but because of the grace of God that has already obtained our salvation.  Titus 2:11-12 tells us, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” It’s the grace of God that actually trains us and motivates us towards obedience. Obedience and correction is not something to be despised!

Chuck Smith claims that certain churches who do not restore fallen men to the pastorate are being legalistic. He says we ought not judge whether or not they are truly repentant. Unfortunately, he misses the point concerning the qualification of elders and pastors. Elders and pastors do not disqualify themselves because they are unrepentant. They disqualify themselves because they have committed sins deemed inappropriate as ministers of the gospel. It is not legalism to obey scripture when it is clear in this area (see Titus 1:6-9; 1 Tim 3:1-6). A pastor who has committed adultery or has disobedient children may very well be repentant and forgiven, but he is nevertheless disqualified from the pastorate. If it were possible for Satan to be victorious it wouldn’t happen by the church taking heed to the biblical qualifications of elders as Smith indicates. The contrary!

Concerning the tendency of “Reformation Theology” to want to get all their ‘T’s’ crossed and ‘I’s’ dotted. Guilty as charged! But we follow the greatest reformer, Christ the King, who said Himself concerning the Hebrew equivalent of the crossing the T and dotting the I, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Christ Came to Fulfill the Law Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:13-19).”

I would very much like to comment on Chuck Smith’s short treatise on the sovereignty of God vs. the responsibility of men. But I feel at this point he is just demonstrating his desire to attack all things “reformation theology.” Addressing his misrepresentations would take several long paragraphs. In short “Calvinism” does not deny the responsibility of men, in fact it affirms it above and beyond any sort of responsibility Smith attributes to men in this chapter. Chuck Smith grossly misrepresents the position of reformed theology and over simplifies it. It is not a matter of John 3:16 on one side and a random man in history on another. If you are interested in understanding the position I would recommend a very good and short article on “The Doctrines of Grace” by Charles Wingad.

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