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Talk to Calvary Chapel pastors about their theology, and they appear the epitome of evangelical balance and moderation: neither Calvinist nor Arminian, neither Pentecostal nor cessationist.

Talk to Calvary Chapel pastors about their vibrant network of 1,300 churches across the U.S., however, and they'll offer two radically different views. Most will call Calvary Chapel a mighty and ongoing work of a faithful God—and they will be right. But the other view expresses deep worry that lax moral standards among some key leaders will sink Calvary's ship. As one pastor said to Christianity Today, "The Titanic has hit the iceberg. But the music is still playing."

Calvary Chapel continues to thrive, nationally and internationally, as it has for five decades. But alongside the growth lie the network's deep-rooted problems, which threaten to undo the association. The visible tip of the iceberg is contentious litigation. Chuck Smith, the founder of the movement, and his son are battling in court with a former Calvary Chapel pastor for control of the Calvary Satellite Network's extremely valuable 400 radio stations. The litigation involves competing allegations of financial mismanagement of the ministry's assets, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as the alleged personal use of ministry resources by insiders.

Below the waterline, the iceberg looks even more threatening. Leading pastors told CT that Calvary Chapel, and specifically Chuck Smith, are dangerously lax in maintaining standards for sexual morality among leaders.

"These men cannot call sin sin," says one 20-year veteran pastor. Easy forgiveness, insiders say, has created an atmosphere of sexual license, where some unethical pastors sense that there are few consequences ...

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In the Magazine

March 2007

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