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October 16, 2012Leadership

What is Calvary Chapel & Why Should You Care?

Right now, I am about to pack up and leave Southern California. I am a small part of a larger conference called ReEngage, a symbolic name encouraging the Calvary Chapel movement to be planting at a higher level. You can find more information about ReEngage here. Before I leave, I thought I might post some reflections on Calvary Chapel.

First, Wikipedia has a good overview of Calvary Chapel:

Calvary Chapel is an evangelical association of Christian churches. Calvary Chapel also maintains a number of radio stations around the world and operates many local Calvary Chapel Bible College programs. It presents itself as a "fellowship of churches" in contrast to a denomination with over one thousand congregations worldwide. Churches which affiliate with Calvary Chapel may use the name "Calvary Chapel" but need not do so.

Beginning in 1965 in Southern California, this fellowship of churches grew out of Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. Doctrinally, Calvary Chapel is evangelical, dispensational, pretribulationist, and believes in the principle of sola scriptura.

Chuck Smith's "Calvary Chapel Distinctives" summarizes the tenets for which Calvary Chapel stands. Calvary Chapels place great importance in the practice of expository teaching, a "verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book" approach to teaching the Bible. Typically, Calvary Chapels operate under a senior pastor-led system of church government, sometimes referred to as the "Moses" model.

Now, let me say why I am writing about this-- I preach at lots of places and don't write blog posts about them. Simply put, it is hard to overstate the significance of Calvary Chapel in remapping Protestantism, particularly evangelicalism.

I actually do a presentation when I seek to explain the modern evangelical movement, particularly to movement leaders here in the United States or to missionaries who have been out of the country for a long time. I call the presentation "The Contours of the Modern Evangelical Movement." In that, I have Calvary Chapel right near the beginning of the modern movement and have a series of arrows that flow from the movement. As the scholar Donald Miller wrote about in his book Reinventing American Protestantism, Calvary Chapel helped birth and shape a movement.

Calvary Chapel helped a new generation of churches see:

  • a deep passion for evangelism where churches focused on reaching the lost, not just shuffling sheep.
  • a spirit-filled movement that believed in all the spiritual gifts, but focused on worship and spirit empowerment, not just the sign gifts (though they do believe in all of them).
  • culturally engaged communities that wanted to reach (at first) hippies and then just about everyone else, bringing them into a worshipping community.
  • church planting that was birthed out of a desire to spread the gospel and reach a lost world through new churches.

My guess is that many of my readers will resonate with the list. If so, you can thank Calvary Chapel. ;-)

So, I am honored that the Calvary Chapel folks would have me-- I've been blessed by many a Chuck Smith message along the way. I hope I can bless the movement he founded in our time together at their conference today.

Having spent a couple of days with many of the next generation leaders of the movement, I am even more encouraged about the future.

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What is Calvary Chapel & Why Should You Care?