Have you ever had a strange feeling in your gut about Calvary Chapel? If so, you will want to read this (it has been my most-viewed article).
You walk into the church on a Sunday morning. Everyone is worshipping God with hands raised. You greet smiling faces. The message is delivered from the Bible (word for word) in a powerful, authoritative manner by the senior pastor. Greetings are made. You drop some money in the “tithe” box. Great day at church, and you do this year after year after year. The pastor says his church only goes by “the Word”. Indeed, that’s how it appears on the outside. You sense there is something wrong at the church, but you just cannot pinpoint it and doubt yourself. After all, the Bible is taught word for word from the pulpit, and there are a lot of members.
This church movement that claims to “simply teach the Word, simply” also follows a set of teachings they say are simply “foundational”, written by a man named Chuck Smith. Oddly, these extra-Biblical doctrines are not brought up. Why? This set of “foundational” teachings that most Calvary Chapel churchgoers are kept in the dark about is (drum roll, please):
The Calvary Chapel Distinctives by Chuck Smith (PDF)
So, what is this “Distinctives” document, exactly? You thought that you were being taught by leaders whose allegiance, leadership models, practices and doctrines were solely based upon the Word of God and sound doctrine rightly divided (2 Tim. 2:15)?
Not so fast.
Calvary Chapels appear to be a very solid, Biblical church. In fact, the messages are usually word-for-word out of the Bible; however, they do manage to insert their twists on scripture. Almost anyone would gather that from attending on Sundays. This is where it gets tricky. Discernment is needed. There is more behind the mask. There is a curtain, so don’t be fooled. Get a little closer, stay a little longer, dig a little deeper, and you will see something quite different at play. A friend of mine, a Calvary Chapel pastor’s son, once said that discovering the issues at Calvary Chapel is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Keep peeling, dig deeper, and don’t settle for the outside.
Have you ever had an odd feeling in your gut when attending a Calvary Chapel but you just didn’t know why? Listen to it. It could be God warning you.
Know your church and what goes on behind closed doors. Most importantly, know the Bible. You could protect yourself and your loved ones from physical abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse and/or practices and legalistic teachings contrary to orthodox Christianity. Church abuse is epidemic.
The root of abuse is error in teaching (and the human heart, of course). In section two of The Distinctives, Smith discusses the Moses/Aaron form of leadership. He also twists the meaning of a “hireling” to mean someone who is not accountable to a board of directors:
“Becoming a hireling is a real danger when the church is run by a Presbyterian kind of a government, and the Board is ruling over the church. The pastor is hired by the Board and can be fired by the Board in the same fashion. With that kind of rule the pastor becomes a hireling.”
Did you catch that subtle yet powerful twist? Smith here is putting the pastor above the board of directors (the “board” is a worldly, business term and is found nowhere in the Bible). In many states, at least in Nevada, the attorney general frowns upon a non-profit with a “one-man show”. The Nevada Attorney General’s A Guide to Non-Profits warns:
“Beware of the one person show. That is, if one or two directors dominate the board and the organization’s activities, do not relax and assume everything is running smoothly. ‘Nonmanagement’ is the quickest route toward trouble. Also, do not allow staff to exercise undue control over the board. Be aware of, and informed about, every major action taken by the organization. The buck stops with you.” (Emphasis mine)
Is this not what is happening at Calvary Chapels worldwide? Why are Calvary Chapels permitted tax-exempt status when they leave a bloody trail of abuse stories in communities? Are they truly contributing to “the public good”? There was once an entire website dedicated to helping abuse survivors from Calvary Chapel. It was called http://www.calvarychapelabuse.com. The author wrote on it for several years before he retired from writing about this subject. Smith’s leadership model is a pyramid of pride as opposed to Christ’s humble, servant-based leadership model. If the pastor cannot be hired or fired by the board, doesn’t that make the pastor a church boss with no accountability whatsoever (as opposed to a “hireling”)? Jesus said a hireling is someone who does not care for the sheep, not someone who is accountable to a board or fellow Christians (John 10:13). In fact, every true pastor/shepherd will be accountable to others. A true, humble servant of God wants to be accountable to Godly people and will listen to correction (Proverbs 12:1; 2 Tim. 4:2). A pastor who cannot get fired is a pastor who can get away with anything in the name of God or being “the Lord’s anointed one”! Do you see any similarities with the Roman Catholic Church?
Smith was no dummy. This is a clever set up and ripe breeding ground for abuse and false teachings to go unchecked in the church. Smith simply (and unbelievably) puts the pastor at the top of the pyramid in his Moses/Aaron form of leadership, on a deserted, pastoral island unto himself separate from any possibility of being fired by the Board or having healthy accountability. We are in the New Testament era – not the era of Moses – it’s the new covenant. Smith twists these Old Testament passages, adding to the Word and creating new, unbiblical “traditions of men”, and churches do this to suit their own legalistic agendas. This is precisely what the lax and liberal Pharisees did. Jesus had a problem with that.
You see, these teachings are “foundational” to the Calvary Chapel church you attend. What are you being taught? Do a quick internet search about Calvary Chapels, and you will find trails of abuse stories and a lack of financial accountability as well.
Calvary Chapel can also be found on the Cult Education Institute.
Please don’t be deceived. Calvary Chapel is not a biblical church. Calvary Chapel has no love or tolerance for those who have questions. When it comes to the bereans, those who would use their intellects to think for themselves, the leaders often threaten with words such as, “touch not the Lord’s anointed”. Even worse, they will condemn with fear tactics and threats that God will “hurt” you if you dare ask them questions or expose church abuses. Where in the Bible does it say to threaten to hurt others? It doesn’t. The top two commands are to love.
“not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3; BSB)
Chuck Smith used this tactic on someone years ago. His public shaming on a man was actually two years (to the day) prior to Smith’s passing. He publicly chastised his critic in front of thousands at a Sunday service, a man who had questions and was speaking out against abuses in the church (particularly, child abuse). Here are the words of Chuck Smith:
“…and you know, I feel sorry for the guy because what I could do wouldn’t hurt much..but…what the Lord will do…um…you know…well…I’m glad I have the Lord on my side“.
How’s that for cultic?