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Calvary Chapel Distinctives: The Centrality of Jesus Christ

by randy on May 10th, 2011

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


This chapter begins by stating, “One of the important characteristics of Calvary Chapel is the centrality of Jesus Christ in our worship.” To Chuck Smith this means disallowing people from standing up individually when singing in church and avoiding distractions during corporate worship. He believes that these sort of things will cause people to #1) lose focus on Christ during worship, and #2) leave the church.

Chuck Smith says, “it’s important for these things to be dealt with because displays like these will cause you to lose prospective members (Pg. 57).” He cites a situation while visiting a Calvary Chapel where someone was standing up to dance during worship. Chuck, annoyed by it, spoke to the pastor. When the pastor defended the practice Smith thought to himself, “All right, stay small (Pg. 58).” Smith notes that in his church, Costa Mesa, if someone does stand up they are dealt with immediately and in love (Pg. 58).

Smith tells a story about his time in Bible College. There was a guy who would always disrupt the service during the sermon. He would stand with his hands raised and yell, “Hallelujah!” Finally, determined to stop it, Chuck sat in the row right behind him and waited for him to begin his “Hallelujah” bit. Smith grabbed his shoulder, pinching a nerve and held him down on his knees (Pg. 60). Chuck Smith notes that he was the only one with the courage to stop him.

He believes that the motivation for these outbursts during corporate worship is to draw attention to self. He cites 1 Corinthians 1:29, “No flesh should glory in His presence” and points to an Old Testament case study where Nadab and Abihu offer up strange fire, are consumed and struck dead as a result (Leviticus 10). Smith comments on this passage, “It’s my belief that they got caught up in the emotion and the excitement of the moment.” As a result, they were consumed (Pg. 62).”

He believes Ananias and Sapphira of Acts 5 were guilty of the same. Smith ends with a warning against drawing undue attention to self and acting out to show other people that you are a deeply spiritual person. He says, “It’s very important to keep Jesus Christ as the central focus in our worship (Pg. 63).”


I expected a chapter titled, “The Centrality of Jesus Christ” to be a hermeneutical statement about the bible, preaching and redemptive history. See Michael Horton’s, “Preaching Christ Alone” as an example. Instead, what Smith felt necessary to communicate in this inaptly titled chapter was a reactionary stance against the radical pentecostal movement he came out of- “how to behave during corporate worship.” I’m not sure how this chapter even attempts to make a case for the centrality of Christ in anything. The chapter has no substance and makes no distinctive points except that pastors should guard against scaring visitors away and drawing attention to self. Seems to be good practical advice, but not much to do with the concept of the centrality of Christ as echoed throughout scripture.

Unlike Jesus’ statement, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me”- the title for this chapter indicating the centrality of Christ was not intended to be a statement about salvation, redemptive history or the scriptures; Chuck Smith intended to address Calvary Chapel’s stance on worship.  In this sense it is a neglected approach to the fact that our worship is of a triune God which should culminate in the exaltation of Christ as redeemer/savior, not his exclusivity.

I don’t believe that Chuck Smith is Unitarian. Instead, Chuck Smith, like other modern evangelicals who separate themselves from historic Christianity, places himself and his followers in the disadvantaged position of developing a doctrine of worship in solitude. In other words, Smith forfeits the valuable jewels mined from scripture throughout the history of the church. Rather than drawing from those resources concerning the worship of the triune God, Chuck Smith formulates a version of his own that greatly misses the mark. (See one of my prior posts, “Individualism: The Church or the Island” for elaboration).

While the account of Nadab and Abihu speaks volumes concerning the topic of worship, Smith grossly misrepresents the text. This is not a story about men wanting to show everyone else how spiritual they were. That is adding to the text where it is silent. This is an account of men disregarding God’s explicit instruction for worship. It’s a common thread throughout the history of scripture. We see this thread going as far back as Cain and Abel. Men have always been wanting to worship God on their own terms and with their own innovations. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, Cain’s was not. Why? The prescribed method required the shedding of blood.

Calvin states, “Nadab and Abihu did not mindfully intend to pollute the sacred things, but, as is often the case in matters of novelty, when they were setting about them too eagerly, their precipitancy led them into error. It would seem a harsh punishment for such a mindless mistake; but if we reflect how holy a thing God’s worship is, the enormity of the punishment will by no means offend us.” Calvin goes on to say, “The ‘strange fire’ is distinguished from the sacred fire which was always burning upon the altar: not miraculously, as some pretend, but by the constant watchfulness of the priests. Now, God had forbidden any other fire to be used in the ordinances.”

Nadab and Abihu were struck down for using strange fire. God had regulated worship by his word and they were not careful to obey this prescribed manner. Does that not ring true in the church today? How about in the innovations introduced by this book in regards to Church Government and the dis-regarded qualifications of elders in the chapter Grace upon Grace? Does not scripture regulate the prescribed method of these things and more?

  1. I went to a cc for a while, but left because I was not happy there. i guess you could say that I felt like abit of a square peg in a round whole, however I believe that the critisims made in the artical and by commnentators should be read with caution.
    I was brought up in the ministry in both free evangelical and baptist.. My father was taught theology in two very different bible colleges to PHD level. One in the United Kingdom and another from American Neither of which had any communication with Calvary Chapel. He was considered a very good bible expository teacher by many from various churches.
    This is my main background, however I have attended anglican, pentecostal and other churches to a greater or lesser degree. I have also attended bible school and I do my own expository bible study. I was also introduced to CC by a man whose background came from free presbyterion and ministered alonside people from various denominations. This is the background that makes me feel I can speak about CC with some clarity, and without any agenda.
    Yes CC may teach pre trib however there are many churches who do so. I don’t know if I completely agree but I would never say that this teaching is false as there are biblical arguements for and against.
    Yes CC do consider themselves to be non denominational mainly because they are not part of any historical establishment. I do consider them a denomination, but there are many denominations, we don’t start calling them cults.
    Are the head leaders controllers. I don’t know. I never met them, but there is a growing trend among lots of churches even those of the established churches. Many people desire to have control, yet don’t have the opportunity to show it. perhaps it would be good for you to prayerfully ask God if what you see in others is the desire you have for yourself.
    CC teach you don’t need to have theological training. Again so do many churches. I personally would encourage those wanting to go into ministry to get theoligical training but i have heard many good sermons come from those who have not had any, which may have been enhanced even more had they done so. Theological training is not a pre requisit in scripture for who can and can’t be a pastor. And yes the disciples did have Jesus as their teachers, but so do we if we have Jesus living in our lives. He is as active in teaching now as he was the disciples who had no accademic learning. Who or what are we relying on, Christ or lecturers?

    Incidently My dad who has had nothing to do with any of the main churches, and has not been under their teaching was asked to teach at one of the international bible colleges. He’s been known by various churches as a good expository teacher and he does not consider the teaching at cc to false, but good.
    Sorry not well written but you get my point are quite clear and simple.

  2. Allen Christensen permalink

    I agree with your Summary. My fondest memories of Calvary Chapel is when I had fellowship there many years ago- although, at that time I was in a state of a false conversion. I was not able to detect the many misinterpretations and poor exegesis of scripture. I loved Chuck Smith as a brother in Christ and I, as many others, will miss him since his passing.

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