Calvary Chapel began in the late 1960's as a small non-denominational church of 25 members pastored by Chuck Smith. As we approach the turn of the century, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa is home to some 30,000 believers, The Word for Today publishes Bible study books and tapes all over the world, KWVE broadcasts God's Word to all of Southern California, and Calvary Chapel's Bible College provides Bible education to thousands at its home campus in Twin Peaks, California and at over 20 extension campuses world wide.
Because of its size and influence, many Christians have asked exactly what Calvary Chapel believes, what are its distinctives, what sets it apart from other Christian groups. At Calvary Chapel, we have always been hesitant to try and answer those questions, not because we are unsure of our beliefs, but because we are cautious to avoid division within the Body of Christ. After all, what really matters is what we have in common as Christians: the "essential" doctrines of the infallibility of God's Word, the virgin birth of Christ, His sinless life, death for our sins, bodily resurrection. ascension to glory, and personal return to rule the earth. These are the essence of Christianity, and agreed upon by virtually all born again believers.
When we move away from the essential doctrines to those that are less essential we risk setting barriers up in the church, something we at Calvary Chapel have no desire to do. Still, Calvary Chapel is distinct from denominational churches and other Protestant groups and people want to know what those distinctions are. That is the purpose of this little booklet.
It is not our purpose to cause division or discord in the Body of Christ, conversely, we long for unity among God's people of all persuasions, and we allow for a great deal of flexibility even within our own ranks. Calvary Chapel pastors are not clones who all believe exactly the same thing. Still, there are distinctives that make Calvary Chapel unique and which define our mission.
In a broad general sense, Calvary Chapel is the middle ground between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism in modern Protestant theology. In fact, we believe that this is at least part of the reason why God has raised up this ministry.
Fundamentalism is that portion of Protestantism which holds to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures, believing that they are divinely inspired and inerrant. Hence, the "fundamentals" of the faith are emphasized. Although the modem news media and the liberal church scorn fundamentalists as backwards and stupid, the truth is that fundamentalism has preserved the integrity of God's Word and held on to the essential doctrines of the orthodox faith.
Pentecostalism as a modern movement grew out of the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century, and spawned denominations that emphasize the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual and Scriptural gifts of the Spirit which had fallen dormant in the main line churches. Also criticized by the liberal church and news media as being emotionally driven, Pentecostalism restored to the church the importance of gifts of the Spirit and the power of God for the believer today.
Over the years, however, fundamentalism, while it clung to the integrity of God's Word, tended to become rigid, legalistic, and unaccepting of spiritual gifts. Similarly, Pentecostalism became enthusiastic and emotional at the expense of the teaching of God's Word.
Calvary Chapel is the balance between the two. At Calvary Chapel we believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible, and we encourage their exercise, but always decently and in order, and with the primary emphasis on the Word of God which we look to as our primary rule of faith.
To quote Pastor Chuck Smith: "We believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Scriptures, and that they are valid for today if they are exercised within the Scriptural guidelines. We as believers are to covet the best gifts, seeking to exercise them in love that the whole Body of Christ might be edified. We believe that love is more important than the most spectacular gifts, and without this love all exercise of spiritual gifts is worthless."
Because of this balance, Calvary Chapel services are designed to be centered around the verse by verse teaching of God's Word, and special "after glow" services are provided where the gifts of the Holy Spirit can operate freely under the leadership of mature Christians. Many Pentecostals think Calvary Chapel is not emotional enough, and many fundamentalists think Calvary Chapel is too emotional. That balance is indication, in my opinion, that we are right where God wants us to be.
Calvary Chapel also differs from most mainline churches in its style of church government. Most denominational churches maintain either a congregational form of church government, a Presbyterian form, or an Episcopal form of running their churches. These three terms should not be confused with the denominations that bear the same names because other churches of different names share the same styles of government.
The congregational form of church government is an American invention and appeals to our American sense of democracy. Basically, the congregation as a whole makes all decisions in these churches by voting on matters of importance and appointing committees from its ranks to run the daily operation of the church. Most Congregational, Baptist, Pentecostal, Brethren, and non-denominational churches are organized in this fashion. The congregation votes on hiring a pastor, votes on how to spend the money, and on anything else of importance. Although democratic people like the idea, congregational forms of church government often wind up at best causing the pastor to be directed by the sheep he is supposed to lead, and at worst reducing the pastor to a hireling.
The Episcopal form of church government, used by Episcopalian, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist churches (to name a few) is controlled by a church hierarchy which may have differing names. Basically, there is a bishop, or someone of similar stature if called by a different name, who oversees the churches, appoints pastors to pulpits, sets policy, and guides the vision of the local congregations. Unfortunately, this style of government, which grew out of European monarchies, leaves little freedom for the local pastor or congregation to follow the leading of the Spirit.
The Presbyterian form of church government, which is typical in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, puts the decisions of church polity in the hands of a select group of elders (the "presbytery") who are appointed in various different ways, depending on the church. These elders are over the pastor, who in turn is over the congregation. The problem here too is that this system puts the God-appointed leader, the pastor, under some of those he is supposed to lead.
Calvary Chapels are organized differently. Church government at Calvary Chapel is very simple, not a complex bureaucracy, committees and sub-committees are essentially non-existent. Basically, at Calvary Chapel we believe that the pastor is responsible for the church, responsible to hear from God, and responsible to feed and love His people faithfully. Elders are appointed in the larger churches to help the pastor care for the spiritual needs of the congregation, as are deacons to help the pastor care for the material needs of the church.
In addition, our churches have church boards as required by most states which vary in size depending on the size of the church, and which usually are made up of mature Christian businessmen who can advise the pastor with respect to the business operations and decisions of the church such as property management and investments. At Calvary Chapel, church organization is de-emphasized, and only the organization that is needed to run the church is instituted. The pastor guides the church as he is lead by the Holy Spirit, and we trust God to put pastors where He wants them to be.
At Calvary Chapel we believe in all the fundamental doctrines of the evangelical Protestant church. For example, we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, that the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is the inspired, infallible Word of God.
We believe that God is eternally existent in three separate persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe that God the father is the personal, transcendent, and sovereign creator of all things.
We believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, provided for the atonement of our sins by His vicarious death on the Cross, was bodily resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit, ascended back to the right hand of God the father, and ever lives to make intercession for us.
After He ascended to Heaven, Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit on the believers in Jerusalem, enabling them to fulfill His command to preach the Gospel to the entire world, an obligation shared by all believers today.
We believe that all people are by nature separated from God and responsible for their own sin, but that salvation, redemption, and forgiveness of sin are freely offered to all by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When a person repents of sin and accepts Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord, trusting Him to save, that person is immediately born again and sealed by the Holy Spirit, all his/her sins are forgiven, and that person becomes a child of God, destined to spend eternity with the Lord.
As we previously mentioned, we believe in the proper Scriptural exercise of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, the greatest gift of all being God's love.
At Calvary Chapel, we await the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. Calvary Chapel is strongly committed to a belief that the church will be raptured before the seven year tribulation period described in Revelation chapters 6 through 18. We recognize that other believers hold a different view, but this is the way we see the Scripture's teaching on this subject.
We believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ with His saints to rule on the earth will be personal, pre-millennial, and visible. This motivates us to heartfelt worship, committed service, diligent study of God's Word, regular fellowship with other Christians, and participation in both adult baptism by immersion and in Holy Communion.
Calvary Chapel rejects the teaching of "amillennialism" which spiritualizes Scripture and denies the literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth as described in Revelation chapter 20.
WHAT WE DO NOT BELIEVE
At Calvary Chapel, we reject some popular doctrines of some Christian groups because we believe them to be in error Scripturally. This does not mean that we will not fellowship with those holding these views, it simply means that such views are outside the boundaries of what constitutes a Calvary Chapel church.
For example, we reject, as we have already mentioned, "amillennialism", post-millennialism, as well as a mid or post-tribulation rapture view. At Calvary Chapel, we are strongly pre-millennialists and pre-tribulation rapturists.
We also reject the belief, held by some Pentecostals and charismatics, that Christians can be demon possessed. The Scripture says "greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world" which makes no sense if a believer can be simultaneously indwelt by both the Holy Spirit and evil spirits. Christians can be attacked by demons, but they cannot be possessed or controlled by them.
In addition, we reject "5-point Calvinism". For a deeper understanding of what Calvinism is, see my book Calvinism versus Arminianism, but for our purposes here, suffice it to say that Calvary Chapel rejects two of the five points of five point Calvinism. First, Calvinism teaches that Jesus' atonement on the Cross was limited, that is, that He died only for a chosen group, His "elect", not for the sins of the entire world. At Calvary Chapel, we believe that Jesus died on the Cross for all the sins of all people, and that anyone who wants to can accept Him as Lord and savior and be born again. Strict five point Calvinists believe that only the elect can be saved and that God has elected others to spend eternity in hell.
Secondly, we reject the Calvinistic teaching called "irresistible grace", which is the belief that man cannot, even if he wants to, resist the wooing and calling of God to salvation. Instead, at Calvary Chapel we believe that man has a free will and he can resist the call of God if he chooses to do so. Therefore, those who hold to five point Calvinism are outside of the borders of what defines Calvary Chapel. [Etc.]
In 1965 Chuck Smith took over a congregation of 25 people, located at Greenville Street and Sunflower Avenue, which had contemplated disbanding before he arrived.
Today, that "little country church on the edge of town" has become a 20-acre campus at 3800 S. Fairview Road, on the southern edge of Santa Ana. More than 35,000 people attend its weekly services, Bible classes, home ministries, fellowship groups in various languages, and other activities. It also operates Maranatha Music, a grammar school and a high school.
Smith has sent out about 650 men to start other Calvary Chapels in the United States and another 134 worldwide. The annual Harvest Crusade revivals were bankrolled by Calvary Chapel until it became a nonprofit ministry. It has drawn more than 1.2 million seekers since 1990.
"When you look at the miraculous transformation, it can only be the work of Christ, our lord and savior," said Robert Haag, missions pastor at Calvary. He spoke on behalf of Smith, who was traveling in Israel at the time. "God has empowered us to spread the biblical gospel that Jesus is the only way to salvation. No ifs or buts about it."
[Ed. note: Success doesn't prove YAHWEH is behind a ministry or assembly. If Haag is correct it means the... Catholic Church, Watchtower Society, Moonies, Hara Krishnas, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Babylonian Talmudic Judaism, etc. are of YAHWEH. That is utter nonsense. You can determine whether or not YAHWEH is behind a ministry or assembly is if it operates according to His word.]
Such unabashed exclusivity has helped fuel modern evangelicalism's meteoric rise in the United States. Evangelicals and [members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] make up the fastest-growing segments of Christianity in the world. While accurate numbers are hard to come by, much of evangelicalism's success during the past half-century has come at the expense of... Catholicism and mainline Protestantism.
The prosperity of evangelicals has come at a cost. There is a good deal of infighting over who's an evangelical and who isn't. The turmoil has led some to wonder if evangelicals can survive their own success.
"It's a dilemma," said Robert Johnston, professor of theology and contemporary culture at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. Fuller, the world's largest nondenominational seminary, was established in 1947 as the beacon of evangelical scholarship.
"There's an umbrella set of beliefs that unites evangelicals," said Johnston, who co-wrote "The Varieties of American Evangelicalism." "But when the term includes certain Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Adventists, fundamentalists, Anabaptists, pentecostals and even charismatic Catholics ... When you lump all those groups and more into one category, there's great room for conflict."
Part of the debate stems from evangelicalism's rebellious spirit. The movement is leery of anything institutional. Its decentralized structure explains the proliferation of independent entities in Orange County such as Calvary Chapel, Eastside Christian Church, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Saddleback Community Church and Mariner's South Coast.
The independence of evangelical churches tends to generate friction. "It's like a family with dozens of siblings. They're bound to quarrel," Johnston explained. "You have one group accusing another of heresy. You have charges of some leader distorting biblical interpretation."
Johnston noted that all evangelicals hold to three fundamental beliefs:
Personal conversion to Christianity: The term "born-again Christian" describes people whohave consciously accepted Jesus as their personal lord and savior. In addition, Holy Spirit movements, including pentecostals and charismatics, emphasize an intense experience of God. Their churches practice speaking in tongues and faith healing.
Biblical authority: Scriptures are the inspired word of Christ. The Bible is the first and final source of authority on all matters of faith and daily living. Biblical interpretation among evangelicals runs the gamut, from literal translations to paraphrased versions.
Evangelizing: The word "evangelical" comes from the Greek "euangelion," which means"good news." Evangelicals believe it's their God-given mission to convert non-Christians and save them from damnation in the afterlife. Their "good news" is that Jesus and only Jesus is the way to the Father.
Fundamental doctrines include humanity's inherent sinfulness; the virgin birth of Jesus, His atoning death on the cross, and bodily resurrection; God's trinitarian nature--Father, Son and the Holy Spirit; and a strong conviction that a world near its end will bring Christ's triumphant return to "judge the living and the dead."
Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa has built a down-to-earth worship style on evangelicalism's three-fold foundation. Its sanctuary features no icons except a dove at the altar and on Sunday, few of the 7,500 worshipers who regularly fill the pews during its three services wear coats and ties.
Worshipers sing praise songs with some raising their hands and then they listen to a sermon. "Chuck teaches that Jesus speaks to us through the Bible," Haag said. "Nothing should distract us from God's message. ... It's a message that not even time has been able to change." (OC Register, 3-07-98, www)
Evangelicalism was started with the goal of saving the world, but it helped usher in the apostasy that we are living in. The supposed success of big named evangelical preachers like Billy Sunday, Dwight Moody, R.A. Torrey, Charles Fuller, and Billy Graham sucked thousands of bishops into their movement. They saw some success and thought their efforts would bring world wide revival. This revival movement has been a major cause of the apostasy we are living in.
Their limited success led them to believe nothing could stop them. They rejected the clear teaching of the Scriptures that just prior to the Second Advent of YAHSHUA there would be the apostasy (2 Thes. 2.3; 2 Tim. 4.3,4). They propagated the idea that there would be a world wide revival prior to the Lord's return and ignored everything except evangelism. Their arrogance ushered in a time of great ignorance of the Scriptures among believers.
The bishops (pastors) that joined the revival crusade neglected discipleship and left the people they saved in a permanent state of infancy. Few bishops taught anything more than the basic doctrines and they preached mostly salvation messages. The only ones who grew in knowledge and faith were men who sought to be bishops.
This situation has not changed since the first days of the revival movement and it never will. It is too easy for bishops to preach boring sermons and do little else. It is much easier to do that than to personally teach the Scriptures to every member of their flock (I Tim. 4:6,11,13-16; 5:17; 6:17-19), exhort them (2 Tim. 4:2; Titos 1:9; 2:15), watch over them (Ibriy-Heb. 13.17; I Keph 5.1), enable them to exercise their gifts for the common good (Rom. 12:6; I Kor. 12:7), train them to be able to "be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks" them "to give the reason for the hope that" they "have" (I Keph 3:15), teach them to obey civil authorities, do good deeds and not slander anyone or be contentious (Tit. 3:1,2,14), train young men to be bishops (2 Tim. 2:2; 3:16,17), and to refute and correct those who contradict their teaching (2 Tim. 2:25; 3:16,17; 4:2; Tit. 1:9,13; 2:15) or continue in sin (I Tim. 5:20).
The founders of the pentecostal/charismatic movement also thought they would save the world through the power of the HOLY SPIRIT and they rejected the clear teaching that there would be a great apostasy among true believers in the last days. They perverted the Gospel teaching people that unless they had a supernatural experience they were not born from above or were second class believers.
Virtually everyone in that movement is convinced that their experiences prove they have been born from above. They focus on experience and neglect the study of the Scriptures which is vital to spiritual growth (Acts 17.11). Their primary goal is to get high on the "supernatural" and tell others they can have the same experience.
In some of the most corrupt branches of the pentecostal/ charismatic movement, salvation through "Jesus Christ" is secondary. The churches embracing the latest charismatic fads--laughing, barking, growling, shaking--spend most of their time putting on carnival style shows and neglect Bible teaching altogether.
Chuck Smith saw the aberrations emanating out of the charismatic movement and backed away from the practice of exercising the sign gifts in public services. He no longer allows any sign gift to be used in a worship/teaching service and he put an end to the use them in all church services.
I applaud him for this, but he has a long way to go. He needs to concentrate on teaching small groups and back away from preaching to large audiences. He knows this, but if he were to do this he would lose most of his flock and his financial support. I don't think he or any bishop of a mega-church has the courage to do what is right and forget about being famous and wealthy.
Had he concentrated on discipleship rather than evangelism he would have started a true world wide revival and his disciples would have led millions to the Lord. Instead he went the way of the revivalists and raised up hundreds of disciples who have led millions to believe they are saved when they are not.
Unfortunately, the love of fame and money motivates bishops of most assemblies no matter the size. They think bigger is better and do not realize their top priority should be the spiritual welfare of their flock.
Most of the Reformed assemblies have stayed with teaching the Scriptures and have not been swept away with the revival movement, yet some Reformed bishops have fallen prey to revivalism and the mega-church syndrome.
The charismatic/pentecostal movement is another major cause of the apostasy we are living in. The revivalists of all persuasions are the primary cause of the apostasy of the last days and few of the people in those movements are truly born from above. I do not say this lightly. It is based on my experience in both groups. I have met only a handful of men and women among the thousands I have known that had any desire to study the Scriptures and fewer still who actually knew more than the elementary teachings of the faith. Only a handful have been able to share a testimony that showed that understood salvation and had trusted YAHSHUA of Nazareth to save them.
There is no way to reverse the apostasy, but every believer who is aware of this has the duty to warn others and encourage them to study the Scriptures. Since few bishops will take the time to teach the flock it is up to those who know the Word to disciple people one-on-one and the few who are qualified should start local assemblies.
For the past 1 year I have been informing my readers about a fundamentalist Christian religious cult operated by a twice convicted child abuser/molester Pastor Phil Aguilar. This group operates in Anaheim California and claims a membership of four thousand.
In my July column I provided additional information about Set Free and its controversy with another Orange County youth orientated fundamental Christian group, Calvary Chapel, which operates out of Costa Mesa in Orange County, California. I described this controversy as a turf was between two very similar religious cults. I also identified a common cause between Calvary Chapel and the anti-cult group known as the Christian Research Institute (CRI).
My columns are prepared and submitted for publication a month in advance. The July column was submitted for publication on May 2, and this month's column was submitted for publication on June 28, the end of the month.
The Orange County Register featured a six page expose of the Set Free cult. The entire Close-Up section of the newspaper documented nearly every allegation made in my previous columns. The Register cited both CRI and Calvary Chapel as major information sources for the story.
This feature article confirms that Set Free is operated by a convicted child molester. It confirms that this minister, Phil Aguilar, operates youth orientated group living houses in a small area of north-central Anaheim. This is an economically run-down area which is a prime candidate for urban renewal projects funded by the Federal Housing urban Development Agency.
The Register expose confirmed local political support for the Set Free group, principally from Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter. Mayor Hunter is described as a friend of Aguilar for nearly 20 years.
The Register also identified the Trinity Broadcast Network (Jan and Paul Crouch) as founders of Set Free. TBN is the legal owner of at least two of Set Free's group homes. The Register did not, however, identify city garbage contractor and major local political contributor William Toramina as the legal owner of God's Casa, the residence of Aguilar, his family, and other church members (some 25 people total). Nor did the Register article mention the restoration of other properties in this area under the joint auspices of Aguilar, Toramina, and other well known Anaheim businessmen.
The bottom line of this Register expose was the revelation of activities by this religious cult and its political supporters which could lead to legal action for violations of legal, state and federal laws. Were HUD renewal federal funds used to rehabilitate these properties? Did Phil Aguilar violate IRS reporting requirements with regards to his personal possession and use of several hundred thousands of dollars of church owned assets? Is there a conflict of interest between city politicians, city contractors and their relationships with Set Free? According to the article, Set Free schools were operating in violation of the California State Education Code. What special privileges have been granted by the Anaheim city officials which permit the housing of 25 people in a single residence in this specific area?
As of the time I am preparing this column, nearly three weeks after the publication of the Set Free expose, there has not been any reported follow-up on the allegations cited or raised by the Register article.
The question here is how deeply are Orange County politicians involved in the promotion of this controversial religious group? Hopefully, these and related questions will be answered in the near future. Mixing politics and religion is a dynamite issue these days.
With regards to politics and religion, the current allegations against Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Robert L. Vernon, raise some significant questions which are adding to the current Los Angeles Police Department operation investigations.
The Grace Community Church of Glendale, which appears to be the center of this controversy, has been involved in other controversial matters. This church was alleged to have contributed to the suicide of a young man who was being treated by the church's Christian Counseling Services. The parents of the suicide victim were unsuccessful in their court action seeking damages for alleged psychological counseling malpractice.
And, of course, speaking of alleged psychological counseling misleads brings us to the latest episodes in Orange County's Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) court trials. You may remember, in my previous columns, I reported that the jury found a 76-year-old mother guilty of negligence in the allegations of her two middle-aged daughters in that she had been responsible for causing them to participate in satanic rituals. She was judged not guilty of intentionally inflicting emotional distress on them.
The daughters, unhappy with the court decision, sought monetary damages from the mother in a court action brought in Orange County in June. The judge denied the damage appeal.
During the course of the original trial, the sisters were identified as being treated and counseled by Long Beach minister Timothy Maas. Maas was reported to be a defrocked Lutheran minister who operates several Christian counseling centers in the Long Beach - Orange County area. It was alleged that Maas induced the belief of satanic ritual participation during counseling sessions with the sisters.
A number of psychological therapists claim that multiple personality disorders are directly related to satanic abuse. This theory is highly controversial. There are numerous psychological experts who will testify on either side of this controversy.
Christian counselor Maas was quoted in a news article that he attended group meetings at the University of California at Irvine on this subject. According to Maas, it was during the attendance at these meetings that he became a believer. I have had similar reports of MPD diagnosed patients with alleged satanic rituals causes. Some of the therapists making this diagnosis have also been traced to the same university group.
Note: Robert Chalenor is now deceased. He dedicated decades of his life fighting cults.
There has been a great amount of media exposure on religious and therapy cults, both large and small, in the past month. A real feud has developed between both the leaders and the backers of the Set Free Christian Fellowship of Anaheim, California and Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Calvary Chapel leaders have alleged that Set Free is involved in highly questionable activities. Calvary has made its anti-Set Free case files available to CRI (Christian Research Institute) and has reportedly asked CRI to alert inquiries of the dangers inherent in the Set Free Program. This is somewhat akin to the pot calling the kettle black. Both of these religious cult organizations have very similar programs.
Both ordain their ministers directly and do not encourage formal seminary or theological training. Both operate group shelters with communal living for young members and others. Both have nearly separate congregations of normal families who have no apparent narcotic, criminal, emotional or other special needs. Both have rigid rules for day to day living, restricted reading lists, separation from family members who are non-believers. Both require resident members to work in church sponsored businesses, strong emphasis on the subservient role of women, heavy tithing requirements, both emphasize strong child discipline. And both have, for many years, made it a main part of their agenda to promote travel groups to Israel.
Another similarity is that both Calvary Chapel and Set Free have strong ties to highly influential conservative Orange County politicians. There is a difference here, however. These political leaders do appear to have separate political agendas within the conservative Orange County political community. The politicians involved in both groups have provided substantial economic and political support to their respective interests. At least one Democratic State Senator has provided political support as well.
The question is: Why are they new feuding? My best guess is that they are involved in a territorial dispute - not a religious or theological one. Current economic conditions are drying up economic religions and other charity resources at a very rapid rate. Note that even Crystal Cathedral founder Robert Schuller is drastically reducing staff and cutting costs to ease the financial burden of his transparent temple. Competition for religious donations is, in my opinion, bring out the beast in the new age religious groups, which have so successfully proliferated during the economic boom of the past 20 years. The fact is that the feud has begun.
Even the editorial staff of Orange County's dominant newspaper, the Register, has joined in the fray. Senior Register editorial columnist, Alan Bock, wrote an editorial column on Sunday, May 26, praising the activities of Set Free. Such praises for questionable religious groups are not unusual from Mr. Bock and his Register editorial colleagues. They are on record as supporting both Scientology and Reverend Moon's Unification Church.
All of which brings us to the May 6 publication of Time Magazine. In an eight-page cover story, Time featured an unprecedented expose of the Scientology organization which it appropriately dubbed "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power."
Preceding the Time Magazine article, a series of six articles was published by the Los Angeles Times in June of last year. The Time series also expose the exploitive and illegal activities of Scientology from its very beginning to that date.
Also, just before the Time story, on April 19th, the Wall Street Journal did a front page story on Scientology's attack on the Eli Lily anti-depressant drug Prozac specifically and on the profession of psychiatry in general.
The most significant feature of these three related exposes is that Scientology, long noted for taking legal action against any critic, has failed to challenge any of these three major publications via legal action. The death of Ron L. Hubbard, Scientology founder, five years ago, has brought some significant management changes. The current direct attack on the IRS by Scientology seems to represent a death wish. This is one of the religious groups that the Orange County Register editorial policy champions. Their view of Set Free should be considered in light of such other endorsements.
Other such current items include allegations that Los Angeles Police Chief Robert Vernon may have used his religious beliefs to influence Police Department policies. Vernon is a member of the Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Chief Vernon puts out a series of audio cassettes that were distributed by the church. This church was involved in a controversial legal case several years ago when it was accused of having caused the death of a young man in the course of a church counseling program. Vernon expressed his beliefs toward women, homosexuals and child rearing. The latter included the value of spanking children through even the age of 17. Vernon recommended the use of a boat oar to administer spanking delivery. In view of the Rodney King incident, such expressions from top police officials are highly controversial. The question which arises is not the officials right to be a religious view but rather of his right to induce such religious views in the administration of public justice. The Los Angeles Police Commission is reported to be conducting an investigation on this matter.
I CONFESS right from the start that I am--and for 17 years have been--a backslider. If you're in the club, you'll know what this means, and you'll know how bad it is to be a backslider. For those not aware of the term--or who think it has something to do with ice skating or mountain climbing--allow me to explain that "backslider" is born-again slang; it means ex-Christian.
It's not a compliment.
I have officially been an ex-Christian--a backslider--since the day I handed in my keys to the front door of Calvary Chapel of Downey, in Southern California, walking away from what surely would have been a notable, if controversial, career as a minister of the Gospel. But far from the easy, slippery skid that the word backslider implies, my own tumble from grace had not been a gentle one.
No doubt about it, Calvary Chapel--along with such similar non-denominational, "New Wave Christian" groups as The Vineyard, Maranatha, and Warehouse Ministries--is some dangerously rocky territory if you happen to harbor any theological questions or liberal interpretations of Scripture. Take my word for it, you'll stick out like a leper at a tanning salon. The dynamic, ever-expanding chain--three of the affiliated churches now operate in Sonoma County (Santa Rosa, Sonoma, and Petaluma)--stands apart from more traditional Christian churches by fostering a maddeningly upbeat, pep-rally atmosphere in which anyone experiencing a crisis of faith must either cover it up, shape up, or ship out.
After seven intense, often exciting years spent examining the "unconditional love" of Jesus--what we all called "God's free gift"--I'd finally concluded that too many conditions and rules had been placed upon that love for it to qualify as either unconditional or free. After all, if God loves us all exactly as we are, I wanted to know, then doesn't that imply some intrinsic human worth? Why, then, had my fellow teenage converts and I been so firmly trained to despise every last nook and cranny of our nature, beaming a patented Calvary Chapel smile while proudly proclaiming our staunch self-disgust?
The bottom line that led to my escape, however, is a less philosophical question: If Jesus truly lives in my heart, I asked, why do I still feel so goddamned empty? And if he does not, if it is all a game, what damage had I done to myself by conforming so utterly to the simple-minded, robotic, dogma-spouting mindset modeled by the elders of the church?
Terrified of what waited out in "the World"--our word for the supposedly empty, nightmarish, despair-filled existence that waited outside the church--unable to continue pretending, I closed the door on Calvary Chapel, knowing that I was doing more than just losing my religion; I was also stepping away from the vital and intimate social circle that had provided a sense of family all through my adolescence. I had just turned 21 and I was turning my back on everything I'd believed and worked for, betraying the only group of people to which I'd ever felt I truly belonged.
THERE IS A TENDENCY among New Age, born-again Christian groups to promise people that if they dedicate themselves to Jesus, their lives will suddenly be better," comments therapist Francis Dreher. The director of the Institute for Educational Therapy in El Cerrito, Dreher is an experienced marriage, family, and children counselor, with a distinguished track record working with former fundamentalists.
"In these churches you often end up placing your whole life and belief on this one single idea," he further explains, "the idea that you will receive redemption here on Earth, along with all the love and the sense of family that you desire, simply by focusing on Jesus. When that doesn't happen, people can tend to sink into serious depression."
Dreher suggests that those attracted to such high-control, authoritarian groups are trying "to make sense of a world that doesn't make much sense, a world full of violence and broken families and broken communities."
Once a member has left the church, Dreher says, the letdown can lead to serious psychological scarring. "Almost always there is a ... lack of self-confidence in making your own decisions again," he adds. "Often it takes a lot of work to make those abilities strong again."
Every organization, occupation, or social group tends to develop its own peculiar lingo, a unique glossary of colorful expressions that rise up from the collective ideas, habits, and personalities of the club members. To insiders, it provides a feeling of unity within the group, while distancing the members from the unwashed outside world.
After my spiritual rebirth at the wobbly age of 14--amid the cultural wasteland of the 1970s--I clung to such distinctions as if my life depended on it. The Jesus Movement was in high gear and I relished using the lingo that identified me as a participant. When we approved of something, we'd say, "What a blessing!" or "Praise God." When we told each other goodbye, we'd invoke, "God bless."
I even enjoyed that word backslider--taken from Proverbs 14:14: "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." We had other words for those ex-Christians: they were "strays," and "execs," and "prodigals," and "blotmarks." That last epithet is taken from Revelations 3:5, in which the apostle John describes a vision of Jesus, who says, "He that overcometh, the same will be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life."
The message was clear: to "walk with the Lord" and then slide back from salvation was to embrace a fate even more fiery than the one awaiting those who'd never been saved in the first place.
WHEN I FIRST walked into a Calvary Chapel, I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. I knew that Calvary, already a certified phenomenon, was a chain of ultra-casual Protestant-fundamentalist churches that had been strongly influenced by the California hippie culture. It had grown in leaps and bounds ever since Pastor Chuck Smith positioned his once-foundering, Costa Mesa--based church as a kind of jumping-off point for the Jesus Movement. I'd never seen any group of people so fired up, so magically set apart from the norm.
Desperately unhappy--the product of a broken home and an alcoholic, suicidal mother--I was ripe for the picking. At Calvary--named for the hill on which Christ was crucified--I all but salivated at the promise of a savior who could love me on an as-is basis. I prayed and invited Jesus to take up residency in my heart.
Soon thereafter, I joined a feverish Bible-study club that met during lunch breaks at Downey High School. I developed a strong cadre of friends, all focused on becoming ministers. We even held communion services, using peanut-butter sandwiches and grape soda for the sacraments. Whenever we felt that the "fullness of joy" we'd been promised was somewhat less than advertised, we'd blame our own weak faith and turn up the religious fervor even higher.
Saturday nights, we carpooled the 50 miles to Costa Mesa for intensely emotional, jam-packed rock concerts--featuring such classic Jesus-rock groups as Maranatha, Mustard Seed Faith, Petra, and One Truth--whipping ourselves into imagining that Calvary Chapel was ground zero in the great war against the devil. We sang, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me"--but we sang it to the bouncy tune of "The Happy Wanderer." "This is not religion," we were told, and quickly parroted to our wide-eyed friends and family, "this is a relationship!"
That relationship with Jesus was further expressed, and distanced, from the incense-and-icon atmosphere of Catholicism and other formal expressions of divine longing by the instantly recognizable symbol that had become Calvary's logo: not a cross or crucifix (too negative, too brooding), but a dove, an oddly misshapen outline of a descending dove that resembled a melting B-52 on a suicide dive. We loved it, dutifully scribbling the shape in the margins of our Bibles, wearing it on T-shirts, and dangling it from chains around our necks. Since we were a bunch of ugly-duck, marginalized teenagers unaccustomed to feeling any sense of belonging, those early days were almost too heady an experience.
Marlene Winell, in her book Leaving the Fold (New Harbinger, 1993), describes her own Calvary Chapel experience as a tremendously exciting one, of being surrounded by "the Christian version of flower children" and of being filled with "a sense of cosmic purpose." Charged up with that sense of cosmic purpose, my friends and I would cry, hug, proclaim our love for one another, praise God, and reiterate our promises to never betray him. We'd close our eyes to pray and actually conjure up the smiling face of Jesus in our minds. Then we'd go out for coffee and badger the waitresses with our wild-eyed enthusiasm.
CALVARY CHAPEL, in retrospect, seems addictive to certain personalities the way alcohol is addictive to others," says Larry Fike. "If you have certain kinds of hang-ups or problems, Calvary can act as an addictive kind of salve." Fike, a professor of philosophy at Cal State in Irvine and another graduate of Downey High, also once assumed his faith was unshakable. After a short sojourn at Calvary, he moved on to an even stricter, Calvinist sect before abandoning Christianity altogether. "It fits well into a consumer-driven culture, Calvary does," Fike observes. "It shares a lot with McDonald's. You go in, and though you're never quite satisfied, there's this strong, advertisement-like appeal to it. You stand there chewing, going, 'I don't quite get this, but everyone else looks satisfied, so I'm going to keep coming back until I'm satisfied.'
"Calvary is selling a product," he insists. "A mass-produced idea of Jesus and salvation and everlasting peace that is constantly wagged before you while you're there. It's like buying a brand of uncomfortable shoes, but then you're afraid to admit that they're uncomfortable, because everyone else is wearing them. So you go on wearing them, hoping you'll finally break them in enough.
"But you never do." I WAS 15 WHEN Downey gained its own Calvary Chapel, a tiny storefront operation pastored by a sincere and affable guy named Jeff Johnson. A disciple of Chuck Smith, Jeff seemed seductively cool to my new teenage friends. Intense, bearded, muscular from years working as a welder in the construction industry, this charismatic, drug-dealing-surfer-turned-Jesus-person caused an immediate stir throughout the strait-laced environs of Downey, following the established Calvary Chapel format of oratorically low-key preaching, a de-emphasis on the trappings of denominational religion, and a shockingly casual dress code.
At Calvary Chapel, even today--at one of the thousand-plus affiliates spreading across the country--jeans, T-shirts, and tennis shoes, or bare feet for that matter, are acceptable Sunday dress. The theology is basic foursquare Protestantism with a Pentecostal twist: an emphasis on love, joy, peace, and goodness with an undercurrent of fundamentalist didacticism and an unswervingly literal approach to the Scriptures. We were encouraged to go out "harvesting souls" in order to bring new converts to Christ; we pored over our Bibles, scribbling notes in the margins, underlining important passages.
The congregation grew; a larger church was built, but was soon too small again. By the time construction began on a new church--building a sanctuary in one quarter of an enormous former White Front department store, the floor of which I camped out on every other night for six months as a volunteer guard of the site while building commenced--over 1,000 worshipers, many of them under 18, were attending every Sunday morning. Similar events were occurring across Southern California, as Smith's burgeoning Bible school churned out dozens of freshly ordained ministers, all male (unlike most Protestant-based faiths, Calvary Chapel expressly forbids women from holding leadership status over any man), all trained in the biblical interpretations favored by Smith, all hot to start their very own Calvary Chapel franchise, taking over storefronts, movie theaters, and tire stores, seldom in a building that actually looked like a church.
In Downey, leaders of other churches--particularly at the First Baptist Church--began to grumble that the glittery newcomer was taking away members by offering "easy" salvation and "worldly" entertainment. In truth, the demand we felt to prove our worthiness has becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. I myself now went to church five or six times a week, and--encouraged to stay away from non-believers--resisted friendships with anyone outside the church.
I organized an offbeat performance group, touring the Southland with a seven-person team that used puppets and pantomime to sell the message of Jesus. Supportive of my dedication and "childlike faith," the Rev. Johnson offered the troupe a workshop/studio behind the newly opened church. I was given a key and "executive privileges"--I was allowed to use the staff kitchen--and began the process of studying to become an ordained minister of Calvary Chapel.
Then things began to get weirder. As the intensity increased, our willingness to debase ourselves in God's name led to unhealthy extremes. I remember Sandy, a fierce 10th-grade convert. While out on a "harvesting trip" at the local mall, she once chose to literally soil herself rather than locate a restroom and risk letting the couple she was preaching to escape. Later on, during an emotional prayer meeting at the church, she stood up to testify, stating ecstatically, "I wet my pants for Jesus!" Not once did anyone suggest that perhaps she was losing perspective. Two other high-schoolers, Laura and Julianne, eager for a juicy mystical experience to tell the congregation, insisted that they'd witnessed the love of Jesus materialize before them in the form of a glowing ball of energy dancing before their eyes. They later realized it was a only a halo of light around a street lamp outside.
Then there was Jeff Johnson himself, our leader, who would tell us that before converting to Christianity and while tripping on acid, the devil appeared to him in a tent in the jungles of Hawaii, and, Johnson insisted, granted him the power to control the elements. After experimenting with the flies in his tent--making them do backflips with the power of his mind--he wandered to a cliff overlooking the ocean. There he summoned a tsunami that drowned all the sunbathers on the beach. He did not tell this story as that of an imagined vision during a bad trip, but as an event that he apparently believes actually took place, an occurrence so unsettling that he had no choice but to turn to Jesus to escape the devil's temptations.
We all prayed that an experience that overpowering, that mystical, that cool, might someday happen to us. Further swayed by Johnson's jaunty sermons encouraging our "servitude" to God and his insistent admonitions not to trust our "worldly desires," we became convinced that we were incapable of making decisions without God's help. We would pray desperately about everything: whether to go to college, which car we should buy, which person we should date. We even prayed at the counter in Burger King that God would guide us order the entre he knew was best for us.
I myself, after years of gaining only intermittent flashes of anything approaching peace, joy, or happiness, began intense 30-day fasts in order to open myself more fully to Christ. At the end of one such starvation-fest, I passed out cold at church, as everyone smiled and praised the Lord, supposing that I'd been knocked out by the power of Jesus.
I began to have doubts. I became depressed. My doctor suggested that I was carrying a stress load that could kill me if I didn't make changes soon.
Johnson--apparently irritated that my doubts weren't dispelled by his prayers--had less and less time to devote to one-on-one counseling sessions with me or any of his other "sheep." That's more lingo: Since Johnson was "the shepherd," we were all "sheep," a hand-me-down idea from Chuck Smith, who, in his biographical book Harvest (Calvary Publishing, 1984, which also contains Jeff Johnson's Hawaiian devil story), tells of abandoning traditional denominational structures after years of pre-Calvary frustration that any church board of mere "sheep" would dare to vote down the plans that he, "their appointed shepherd," had been given from God.
Apparently overwhelmed by the growing demands of running what had become a multimillion-dollar organization with almost 5,000 members, a bookstore, a full-time Christian school, and numerous ancillary ministries, Johnson began to refer certain mundane matters--explaining contradictions in Scriptures and your basic crises of faith--to his associate ministers. Often he'd suggest we get in line with the other sheep waiting to talk with him after Sunday morning services.
I stood in that line to say goodbye on the day I walked away. I'd long since abandoned the puppet ministry, shortly after the church took back the studio to convert it into restrooms for the school gymnasium. Lastly, with only a shred of belief left, I had even called a stop to my ordination process. With the last of my childhood faith now fading away, I shook hands with Johnson, exchanged God-bless-yous, and drove away from Calvary, away from Downey, away from Southern California, and away from Jesus.
I vowed I'd never return. Last Thanksgiving, after nearly two decades, I finally broke my promise and returned to Calvary Chapel.
RICK ROSS is an "[intervention specialist]," a world-renowned [expert] specializing in the [behavior] of destructive cults [and radical groups]. As a "deprogrammer," Ross aids former members of [extreme groups] and their families to make the difficult transition to life outside of the controlling group.
Working from his office in Phoenix, Ross has assisted members of the Davidian cult in Waco as well as [consulting the media just after the tragic suicide of the cult known as] Heaven's Gate in San Diego. His website - a resource center for cult watchers and families of people who have disappeared into cults--includes a long list of reports on various cults, [controversial and radical groups]. Calvary Chapel is on the list.
"I wouldn't go so far as to call them a full-on cult," Ross says. "But I will say that Calvary Chapel is an extremely authoritarian group where lots of control is exercised over the members. They treat Smith as if he has some special revelation, an elite calling from God. The churches under Chuck Smith all foster feelings of spiritual elitism. They are typical of a lot of groups who think they are God's Green Berets, the epitome of God's best."
Ross has twice been involved in transitioning clients away from Calvary chapels, each time contacted by parents who were alarmed at the intensity of the personality changes and frightening mood-swings their children experienced after joining Calvary.
"The promise of unconditional love is hard to pass up," Ross agrees. "But in my experience, what Calvary offers is [highly] conditional love I've ever known. People who leave [often] feel that they could never be good enough. The clergy at Calvary don't wish to admit it, but they push their members very hard. [Many can not] an live up to those expectations.
"Don't get me wrong," he adds, "I've seen some of the worst cults ever. By comparison, I don't see Calvary Chapel as being nearly as extreme as others. But does that mean Chuck Smith is a nice man or that his churches are a good place to go? No.
"The Bible says you will know them by their fruits, doesn't it? Well, Chuck Smith's tree has dropped some pretty damaged fruit."
Repeated phone calls to Chuck Smith were never returned.
Others are more inclined to classify Calvary Chapel as a full-blown cult. "Cults, in my opinion, are about behaviors, not beliefs," explains Janja Lalich, an expert on cult systems and mind control and the director of Community Resources on Influence and Control, in Alameda. "Cults aren't always tiny religious groups off in some compound. I think anyone who says they have the answer, the one way, whatever it is, is potentially dangerous. Whenever questions are not really answered but always turned back on you like there is something wrong with you for asking them, that's a sign that something is wrong."
And though cults are often identified by the influence of one charismatic leader, there is such a thing as a cult of consensus, she says. "Often it's not direct orders from the leader at all but a group dynamic and a process that gets put in place," explains Lalich. "It's the peer pressure that can end up being even more important than the relationship with the leader. As human beings that's what we respond to. You're just going along with the norm and modeling yourself after the other members, and suddenly you are unable to think for yourself."
DON McClure is the pastor of Calvary Chapel in San Jose, another growing franchise in the Calvary chain. Its membership, like most of the urban-based Calvarys, has been steadily growing for years. Clearly, there is something at Calvary Chapel that people want. "Calvary chapels are among the least judgmental, most easygoing churches I've ever seen," he gently insists, calmly resisting my assertion that past members have claimed emotional wounding. "We have no ego here. The shepherds have just one job, and that is to feed our sheep. We get accused of things from time to time, but our message is pretty simple:
Come to the Lord and be saved.
"I guess if someone's calling us a cult, then they don't understand what we're really all about." There is no doubt that Calvary Chapel--and other non-denominational churches of its kind--do a tremendous amount of important charitable work: assistance to the homeless outreaches to the poor and to immigrant families. But what of the wild extremism I experienced in Downey? The constant fasting, the feigned visions--the pants wetting? Isn't that a sign that all is not well?
"Well, I never heard about any of that," McClure chuckles. "But I guess it goes to show that some people will do just about anything."
AFTER MANY YEARS spent living in "the World," I have learned that there is such a thing as happiness, peace, and even unconditional love, and that Calvary Chapel--religion in general, for that matter--holds no monopoly on it. Though it's taken almost half my lifetime--and endless hours of therapy--to shed the anger, guilt, and self-hatred that I inherited from my tutelage under Jeff Johnson, my new life is demonstrably richer, fuller, and more meaningful than my narrow, fear-driven experience, intoxicating though it was, within the inner circle of Calvary. I am not alone.
Of my old friends, only a handful have remained believers. And--true to their training--have made it clear that my blotmark status makes it impossible to sustain any further friendship. A surprising number of them, however, are now confirmed backsliders like myself.
"It would take an act of God to get me back to any church with the name Calvary on it," jokes Laura Hoffman--she of the aforementioned mystical street-lamp experience. "I'm embarrassed to think about the things I did and thought. It took a long time to stop feeling stupid."
Laura, by coincidence, is now married to another former member of Calvary Chapel, whose son attended Chuck Smith's Calvary School in the 1980s and suffered recurring nightmares for years. "I do look back on my experience as that of being in a cult. It's left me with little tolerance for people who won't think," she says. "It's easy enough to live in a closed system where all the answers are fed to you, but it's laziness. If you have an original thought, I can respect that, but to be a sheep just sitting there gobbling up the pabulum, I have no tolerance for that."
Jeff MacSwan, a professor of linguistics in Los Angeles who attended Calvary off and on during his high school years, adds, "Let's face it, a lot us who got involved with that conversion-style religion were pretty screwed up to begin with, right? You get people going in who are screwed up, and they are likely to be screwed up even more.
"I wouldn't say they're a cult, though," he cautions, "because then you'd have to say that 12-step groups are cults, or even the Marines, which all depend on hyped-up emotionality and psychological control. I guess it's a matter of which groups do the most damage."
"I'm still pretty banged up by it," admits another escapee, requesting anonymity. "I don't want any of my colleagues to know about that part of my history, that I was suckered in by a 'bait-and-switch theology,' which I was, with Calvary telling me I was saved only to insist that I was barely worth saving."
He's now a science writer at a major northwestern university.
"When I was 17, and a part of that group, I thought I understood everything," he says. "And when I was 25, I realized that when I was 17 I was full of sh--. Now that I'm even older, I'm sure I was full of sh--. That Jeff Johnson and Chuck Smith are standing up there telling a bunch of kids that, as Christians, they really do know everything is beyond frightening--it's deplorable."
Sandy, at last report, had traded in her pants-wetting zeal for something more personally rewarding; a Berkeley newspaper a few years back described a massive, university wide protest that she led against an anthropology professor who'd been teaching that white races were mentally superior to people of color. She shut down his classes for weeks.
IT WAS A DESIRE for a sense of closure--coupled with a growing bewilderment and curiosity about the organization that once so thoroughly dominated my life--that led me, one Sunday last fall, to return to Calvary Chapel in Downey.
My e-mails to Pastor Jeff, suggesting a sit-down meeting, are ignored and his secretary politely insists that I should not expect to be granted such a meeting if I arrive. The same huge parking lot--which once seemed unfillable, even by the large numbers of people attending services 17 years ago--is packed with cars bearing anti-choice bumper stickers and glib slogans: "Life without Jesus is Hell." I find a parking space in the back, near the site of my old studio.
True to Jeff's promise, I had been replaced by a restroom.
The old sanctuary--the one I helped build and slept in all those years ago--is now used for the youth ministries and Spanish-language services. To accommodate the growth in attendance, a gorgeous new sanctuary has been built in the three-quarters of the building that had once stood empty. Standing inside the cavernous new lobby, as the first service lets out, I immediately catch an unmistakable whiff of that good old "cosmic purpose." Though I recognize none of the faces--a huge percentage of them still under 20--I recognize the look, the radiant smile, the glowing features, and the tear-stained cheeks.
I also recognize the line of people that leads to where Jeff Johnson stands, still bearded, his hair gone white.
I take my place in line.
"Remember me?" I eventually ask.
"Of course!" he exclaims, grasping my hand.
"Good to see ya. Lord bless ya! Where are you living now?"
"Northern California," I reply.
"Heavy. Married or anything?"
"Praise the Lord! Any kids?"
"Wow! What a blessing! Are you going to fellowship up there?" he wants to know.
"Actually," I answer truthfully, "since Calvary, I haven't found any church I'm comfortable in."
"Oh," he answers, nodding slowly.
"The place has grown," I say, glancing around and back at the line that's formed behind me.
"Awesome growth," he agrees. "But more than the quantity, there's a whole new quality of believers coming in. They're getting rooted in, grounded in God's word, and staying rooted in it. They're bringing in others. Healthy sheep beget healthy sheep, of course. Are you staying for the next service?"
I say that I am and reiterate my request to meet with him later.
"Wow, I'm all scheduled up," he says. "But maybe after Thanksgiving."
He extends his hand again. "God bless."
Sitting toward the front of the 4,000-seat sanctuary, I am suddenly overwhelmed by the tremendous emotional distance I have traveled since the last time I sat listening to my one-time shepherd. His words still awe me, though in a vastly different way.
"Don't bother watching the news, people," he says from the stage at the end of his sermon.
"Don't waste your time reading newspapers. The Bible says that the devil is 'the prince of the power of the air.' What do you think that means? Air? God's talking about the 'airwaves'!
The devil controls the media! So take your news from the Bible only. It's all you need." The sheep smile. They nod. They agree with whatever he says.
"Out in the world, people have no guidance," he continues. "If someone smashes their car, what do they say? They look at their car and say, 'Oh my God!' because their cars have become their gods. Weird gods."
And so it goes. Finally, he winds it up. "Let's pray," he says as heads bow all around me.
"Thank you, God, for the assurance of your glorious Word," Johnson prays, as I continue to watch. "We pray for those who don't have this assurance. We pray for those who are backsliders. You know who you are."
I look up at the pulpit. Though 4,000 pairs of eyes are closed all around us, Jeff Johnson is pointing directly at me.
"Pull them out of the world, Lord," he prays. "Bring them back into your Light."
I close my eyes, trying to imagine the face of Jesus calling me back to the fold. Though I will always love that face, and will honor the wisdom, understanding, and love that it represents to me, I can no longer see it as the face of a savior, offering to transform my wretchedness into a thing of worth. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.... I may someday find a church in which I feel comfortable; perhaps I'll even call myself a Christian again. But I will never again believe that I am so wretched that no one but Jesus can love me.
I look back to Johnson.
"Come home," he is offering, his voice lilting and soft. "Come back. It's never too late to reclaim your salvation."
Perhaps he's right. Maybe it's not too late.
But for this particular backslider--having finally grown up out in the big wide messy world--nothing I once clung to within these very walls could ever again be enough.
Spokane _ The largest single church in Spokane is taking on the fastest-growing religion.
Calvary Chapel Spokane is sponsoring a speaker whose entire ministry is dedicated to "exposing the deception" of the [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints].
Bill McKeever, founder of the California-based Mormonism Research Ministry, will preach at three worship services July 10-11. The public is also invited to a three-hour seminar July 11 at Calvary, 511 W. Hastings Road.
Pastors at Calvary said they sought McKeever to counter the media blitz that traditionally coincides with the building of a Mormon Temple, like the one scheduled to open later this summer in the Spokane Valley.
Mormon officials say they're frustrated by the timing of the event, but plan to "turn the other cheek" in response.
"The bottom line is we have seen critics for 170 years, since the church was organized," said Don Rascone, church spokesman. "We don't get into heated discussions with other churches."
Garry Borders, president of the Spokane Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he loves to discuss theology and doctrines of his church, but is disappointed another church would sponsor a forum solely to discredit Mormon beliefs.
"It's unfortunate that it's happening, but it's within their right to do so," he said.
Calvary Chapel boasts the biggest congregation in Spokane, with more than 2,000 people attending worship every weekend.
In the past decade, Mormon membership has jumped 30 percent on Spokane's North Side and 50 percent in Kootenai County.
McKeever will devote most of his time to examining and debunking the Mormon understanding of the nature of God, Jesus and salvation.
He contends his work is a defense of Christianity. In addition to 30 to 40 speaking engagements a year, McKeever is author of two books: "Answering Mormons' Questions" and "Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend."
McKeever said he was raised in a part of California with a large Mormon population. When he converted to Christianity, many of his Mormon friends pressed him to join their faith.
Christians take issue with many Mormon teachings including the doctrine that humans are direct descendents from God, that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are separate, independent beings, and that the Book of Mormon is the Scriptural equivalent of the New Testament.
Still, many Christian denominations maintain cordial relations with the Mormon Church.
In Salt Lake City, Mormon officials attended the recent installation of the Catholic bishop and contributed money to the renovation of the cathedral, said Spokane Catholic Bishop William Skylstad.
Although theological differences -- big and little -- are common among different religious groups, rarely does one group openly challenge the beliefs of another.
Mormons, who number just over 10 million worldwide, seem to be an exception. The church is frequently accused of being a cult, because of its unique practices, ritual dress in temples and strict rules.
"It's downright discrimination," Skylstad said of the attitudes toward Mormons.
Mormons are traditionally very stoic about such criticisms.
When the Chicago Bulls' Dennis Rodman made off-color remarks about Mormons during the 1997 NBA finals against the Utah Jazz, the church had no response.
In excusing the behavior, Bulls coach Phil Jackson made things even worse, saying Rodman "may not even know it's a religious cult, or a sect, or whatever it is."
Still there was no church response.
Last year, Southern Baptists held their annual convention in Salt Lake City with the explicit purpose of converting Mormons. The church welcomed the Baptists to Utah.
Evangelical Christians, like those leading worship services at Cavalry, are particularly unfriendly toward Mormons for several reasons.
Outside observers say the two groups spend a lot of energy proselytizing and often find their converts in each other's congregations.
Chuck Smith is best known to those outside of the state of California as the teacher on the nationwide radio program, "The Word for Today." The radio programs are edited messages from Smith's sermons at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, where he is the senior pastor. Calvary Chapel also operates a wholly-owned radio station (KWVE), as well as a Bible College in Twin Peaks, California, a castle in Austria, and other properties.
Born in 1927, Smith started Calvary Chapel in 1965 with only 25 people. In six months it doubled. Today it has a reported "membership" of approximately 15,000 and has planted Calvary Chapels all over the globe. Smith's ministry grew out of the Christianized version of the hippie youth movement of the 1960s and '70s (he was a leader in the "Jesus Movement," a counter- cultural movement which focussed heavily on subjective religious experience) into what has become a nationwide group of churches known as Calvary Chapels. Over 600 churches (approximately 525 nationally and 85 more worldwide) have grown out of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, some of them with memberships of more than 5,000.
Chuck Smith has been touted thusly: "This man, Chuck Smith and his church, Calvary Chapel, has had
an amazing influence upon the Christian world." That being the case--What kind of message have they
received (and do they receive) from Smith and Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa? In this article, we will
examine only four aspects of Chuck Smith and his ministry--his ecumenism, his compromise with
psychology, his charismaticism, and his worldly evangelism methods.
Chuck Smith Is Ecumenical
In his 1993 book, Answers For Today , Smith says the following:
"Paul points out that some say, 'I'm of Paul,' while others say, 'I'm of Apollos.' He asked, 'Isn't that carnal?' But what's the difference between saying that or saying, 'I'm a Baptist,' 'I'm a Presbyterian,' 'I'm a Methodist,' 'I'm a Catholic'? I have found that the more spiritual a person becomes, the less denominational he is. We should realize that we're all part of the Body of Christ and that there aren't any real divisions in the Body. We're all one . What a glorious day when we discover that God loves the Baptists!--And the Presbyterians, and the Methodists, and the Catholics . We're all His and we all belong to Him . We see the whole Body of Christ, and we begin to strive together rather than striving against one another" (p. 157). (Emphasis added.)
If anything should be clear, it is that Catholicism is a false religious system and is in no way part of the Body of Christ. Yet Chuck Smith views Catholicism as merely another Christian denomination.
Chuck Smith's Hypocritical Stand Against Psychology
Chuck Smith is the general editor of a booklet that Bob Hoekstra has written entitled, The Psychologizing of the Faith , that attempts to expose the evils and false doctrine that has come into the church via psychology. This booklet is sold in the book store at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Although the Calvary Chapel book store has a disclaimer at the cash register which says that they can't fully endorse every book sold, it is absolute hypocrisy to endorse The Psychologizing of the Faith , and at the same time sell and promote (by selling) books written by pop psychologist Dr. James C. Dobson, Tim and Beverly LaHaye (four-temperament gurus), Charles Stanley, Billy Graham, Max Lucado, Kay Arthur, Bill Bright, etc.
In addition, in the 1994 booklet What Calvary Chapel Teaches: A Brief Explanation of the
Doctrine of the Calvary Chapel Movement by Calvary Chapel Assistant Pastor Larry Taylor,
Calvary Chapel admits to approving of "mental health professionals" and says, "we thank God for
them." (Taylor has a Ph.D. in psychologically-based counseling and has held previous private
employment as a consultant to psychiatric hospitals and social service departments; he claims most of
the booklet was written by Chuck Smith.)
Calvary Chapel also sponsors "DISCIPLESHIP SUPPORT GROUPS" every Friday evening at the church. A flyer distributed by Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa describes who should attend these support group meetings:
"For (a) People Pleasers--For those who painfully depend on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, value and identity; (b) Sexually Abused--For women whose lives have been impacted by sexual abuse in some form; (c) Bereavement--For those who have lost a spouse or other loved one, whether recently or in the past; (d) Separated/Divorced--For those who have suffered the break-up of a marriage; (e) Men Impacted by Sexual Abuse--For men who have been sexually abused or have a loved one who has been abused; and (f) Overeaters--For those who compulsively eat."
This all follows the pattern of a psychological approach--as does Calvary Chapel's "Tuesday School of the Bible." Of the 34 course offerings listed in a recent catalog, over a quarter are blatantly psychologized, with such titles as: (a) Preparation for Marriage (using a book written by pastor turned psychologist H. Norman Wright); (b) Choosing to Love (teaches codependency concepts); (c) The Step to Sobriety (codependency course using The Serenity Bible for the text); (d) Children With Chemically Dependent Parents (taught to 7 to 12 year-olds who have parents who are drunks or are on drugs); and (e) Biblical Strategies For Recovery From Abuse (with a course description that reads like a course on Inner-Healing).
Smith teaches psychological concepts in many other places. For example, in his 1982 book Charisma vs. Charismania , Smith teaches Freud's concept of the superego as a picture of our ideal self (p.
47); that God prizes and values us (p. 63); that Maslow's concept of a hierarchy of needs is valid for Christians (pp. 99-100); that what the Bible calls sins are actually "overt escapes" (plus such
psychological terminology as "I hate myself" and "a subconscious desire for punishment") (pp. 102-103); etc. More psychological concepts can be found in Smith's 1977/1980 booklet titled Family Relationships , wherein he speaks of the "ego" and "superego" (p. 9) (also found in his most
recent book, Why Grace Changes Everything , [pp. 32-33]); the "emotional spectrum" of women and men (p. 12); "emotional needs" and the "male ego" (pp. 32-33); and "psychological problems" (p. 54).
Chuck Smith the Charismatic
Though Smith cannot be classified as a hyper-charismatic (i.e., one who holds physical healing and/or demon deliverance services in open church), his theology is definitely charismatic. (However, we are told by former Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa members that some of the more radical charismatic practices are allowed and even encouraged in home Bible studies and prayer groups.)
In his 1982 book Charisma vs. Charismania , Chuck Smith teaches that the "abuse of tongues" (i.e.,
blurting out gibberish in a formal church service) makes one a "charismaniac," but speaking in tongues
as a private prayer language is not only acceptable, but encouraged (p. 113) and to be an enjoyable
"experience" (p. 110). Smith's experience-oriented theology probably comes from the fact that he is
strongly Arminian, so strongly Arminian that he, in effect, has rendered meaningless the Biblical
doctrine of God's sovereignty (Word for Today tape#1849 & Calvinism vs. Arminianism , by Larry
Chuck Smith's Worldly Evangelism
Perhaps a result of Smith's early days in the counter-cultural "Jesus Movement" (see note below), he seems to have a particular fondness for using the world's methods to aid in teaching and/or evangelism. For example, drama and soft-rock musicals have always been a staple in Calvary Chapel's youth ministries. However, "Christianizing" the things of the world in order to reach the lost seems to have gone considerably further at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. The 6/13/94 NIRR and the 11/16/94
Christian Century report that Calvary Chapel has begun a ministry at all-night "rave" parties. Rave is a dance movement from Europe in which teens take designer drugs, use virtual-reality devices, and dance (usually alone) away the night and early morning hours to repetitive techno-pop dance music. Often there is no lighting except for strobes and lasers.
The raves are usually held in abandoned warehouses or on Indian reservations. The youth members from Calvary Chapel dress like the ravers. The males wear leather jackets, T-shirts, parachute pants or shorts, and shoes similar to army boots. The females usually wear T-shirts, cutoff shorts, and the same style boots. Calvary outreach assistant Tracy Herman claims that the Calvary Chapel evangelists hand out "really hip tracts" at the raves, and the response to the gospel is "almost always positive." Even if that were the case, is it not a sin for a church to expose its young people to such a wicked environment (1 Cor. 15:33)?
[Note on the Jesus Movement: The 9/93 issue of Charisma magazine had a section of articles discussing the legacy of the "Jesus Movement" of the late 1960s. Some key words/phrases characterizing this movement were: Sexual revolution, acid generation, long hair, hippies, rock/folk music, rebellion, anti-war protest, peace, love, "Jesus freaks," flower children, communes, and coffeehouse ministries. Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel were prominently discussed. The "Jesus Movement" helped fuel the wild-fire spread of the charismatic movement along with its so-called Contemporary Christian Music. It gave vitality to such ecumenical/neo-evangelical organizations as Campus Crusade, Youth With A Mission, and Jews for Jesus. Cornerstone magazine (Jesus People USA) (indirectly) and Greg Laurie (an early Calvary Chapel convert) are also products of the Jesus Movement. (Reported in the 9/15/93 Calvary Contender .)]
[BDM has a fully-documented 5-page report on Chuck Smith; see offer on the last page of this Letter.]