Tuesday, January 31, 2012


7 Reasons why 
I Left behind
“Left Behind” 
and the
Pre-Tribulation Rapture
Does the Bible really teach that there is going to be a pre-tribulation “Rapture” of certain believers, or is this just another end-times view that takes Scripture out of context? 
You decide.
I’m using the acronym “R.A.P.T.U.R.E” as an outline for these 7 reasons.
*Please take some time and consider the following arguments in this article with a teachable heart. You don’t have to agree, but at least read these 7 reasons, and be like those in Acts 17:11 who, “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were true.” May God bless you as you “study to show yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth!” 2 Timothy 2:15
Reason #1         Rapture
“R” stands for “Rapture.” A Rapture of the church at the beginning of an end times tribulation period and 7 years before Jesus’ second coming is nowhere taught in the Scriptures. Nowhere! There is not one verse in the Bible that plainly teaches that the church is going to be removed from the planet 7 years before Jesus returns. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, 1Corinthians 15:51-55, Revelation 3:10 and John 14:3. These are the passages often used to support a “pre-tribulation rapture of the church.” However, an honest reading of those passages would never lead someone to believe in a special rapture of Christians before a tribulation period unless they were first “trained” to read a pre-trib rapture into the text. In the Bible the Rapture, Resurrection of the dead and Return of Jesus Christ are all written as a simultaneous event. (See Reason #6) The plain reading of Scripture does not have the Lord returning twice in the end. The Bible clearly teaches that the Second coming is one event.
Reason #2         rApture
“A” stands for “Always.” Always in the New Testament the word “saint” means a redeemed, Jesus believing Christian in the Church unless the quote is directly referring to the Old Testament “saints” before Jesus came the first time. You will notice that the Book of Revelation has “saints” all throughout the Tribulation period and the entire book*. Those Tribulation “saints” are called and identified as, “brethren, servants, those who keep the commandments of God, people from every tribe, tongue and nation, apostles, prophets, those who live and die for their faith in Jesus Christ” and they are called “the Bride.” This sounds a lot like the Church to me. If saints are living during the tribulation and those saints are described exactly as one would describe the Church then it is obvious it is the church that is present during the Tribulation period. It is unbiblical to redefine the word “saint” in Revelation to mean something different than what it means everywhere else just because it conflicts with your particular end times view or tradition. “Saints” in the New Testament are Christians in the Church, and we have no Biblical support for calling them anything else in the Book of Revelation.
(*For a thorough description of God’s people in the Book of Revelation see Revelation 5:8-10, 6:9-11, 7:3, 9-17, 10:7, 11:3, 10, 18, 12:10-11, 17, 13:7-10, 14:1-5,12, 16:6, 15, 17:6,14, 18:4, 24,19:2,5-10, 14, 20:4-6,9, 21:3,7, and even Daniel 7:25, 27)
“A” also stands for “Appointed to wrath.” You might have heard someone say, “the church is not going to be here through the Tribulation because “God has not appointed us to wrath,” and the Tribulation is God’s wrath.” However, throughout the entire Bible we have examples of God successfully pouring out His wrath on the ungodly while preserving, keeping and protecting His people. (See Reason #4) Even today some abide under the wrath of God while others abide under the salvation of God. (See John 3:36, Romans 1:18-32) “Wrath” must be defined by it’s context, because “wrath” is used in a variety of ways in the Bible. Maybe you have heard, “But the church is not mentioned as being on earth from Revelation chapter 4 through the end of the book.” Yes, but the church is not mentioned as being in heaven either. The word “church” is only used in Revelation Chapters 1 to 3 as being a local assembly. From then on believers are not identified as “the church” but as saints, brethren, faithful, servants, etc. So, the saints in the Tribulation must be the Church, and they are not appointed to wrath but salvation.
Reason #3         raPture
“P” stands for “Peter and Paul.” Peter, Paul and even Jesus did not believe or teach an “immanent” or immediate return of Christ. Remember in John 21:18 after the Lord rose from the dead and met Peter and the disciples at the sea fishing? Jesus later asked Peter if he loved him and then told Peter that he (Peter) was going to die a martyr as an old man. Therefore Jesus was saying that He was not going to return in Peter’s lifetime. Peter knew his entire life that Christ was not returning in his lifetime, and that he would die exactly like Jesus said, a martyr as an old man. See 2 Peter 1: 14. So when Jesus said in John 14:3 that He was going to come again and receive Peter to Himself He was not talking about a “rapture” in Peter’s lifetime, but more likely coming to get Peter at His death, not before. Otherwise the comment in John 14:3 opposes John 21:18. Peter was waiting to be martyred as an old man, not waiting for an “immanent rapture” to rescue him from martyrdom. Paul was told by Jesus that he would witness to Jews, Gentiles, Kings and even go to Rome. (See Acts 9:15, 23:11) Paul was not waiting for a rapture, he was fulfilling God’s purpose for his life and training leaders to continue the ministry of the Gospel on into future generations. (Read 2 Timothy 2:2) The Disciples were told that they would witness to the entire world. (See Acts 1:8) This would suggest that the Lord was not returning anytime soon but would delay His coming so that the Gospel would spread and multitudes could be saved. Jesus even taught Parables that suggest His coming and return would be far off but as a “thief.” 1 Thessalonians 5:4 suggests that the Lord’s return is “as a thief” to unbelievers who do not expect it, but to us His coming is expected and as a Friend. And 2 Thessalonians also seems to suggest that a few things must happen before the final return of Christ. But the day and hour of the Lord’s return no one knows, but we should be ready for it.
Lastly, just because the timing of the Lord’s coming was unknown to the Apostles does not mean the same thing as “immanent or immediate.” The Lord’s coming could be “at any moment” in the distant future. With all of this said, we know that nearly 2000 years have passed since the Lord came the first time, and that He certainly could come at any moment or continue to delay His coming and extend His mercy to millions of people yet unborn. We should live ready for the Lord’s return but rejoice that His delay means the opportunity for salvation to many more who would be destined for hell if He returned today. Thank the Lord that He delayed His coming until you were saved. Should you not wish the same for others?
Reason #4         rapTure
“T” stands for “types.” Have you ever heard someone say, “There are “types” in the Bible that support the pre-trib rapture, like Enoch being “raptured” before the flood, Lot being “taken out” of Sodom and Gomorrah, Daniel being “gone” while the 3 Hebrews had to endure the fiery furnace, or Elijah being “caught up” in a chariot of fire.”? While none of those “types” support being raptured off the earth in order to escape tribulation, there are many “types” that suggest, even support God leaving His people on earth to be a light and protecting them through tribulation.
I will give 7 examples:
1- Noah and those on the ark were protected through the flood, not delivered from it or removed from the planet. Noah was being saved, and simultaneously God’s wrath was being poured out on the wicked.
2– Lot was protected out of Sodom and Gomorrah by leaving town, not being “raptured” and removed from the planet.
3– In Exodus, Israel was protected by God in the land of Goshen while the plagues were poured out on Egypt.
4- Also in Exodus, Israel’s firstborns were protected at Passover while Egypt’s firstborns were killed. This happened simultaneously.
5– The 3 Hebrews in the book of Daniel were protected in the fiery furnace with God’s presence, not delivered from the fiery furnace.
6– Daniel was protected in the lion’s den by the angel not removed from it. God can protect His people without removing the hardship.
7– The Tribulation saints in the Book of Revelation are protected through the tribulation, from God’s wrath, and not raptured from it.
We should always consider the context of Old Testament stories and characters before we use them as “types” to support a particular view. For example, remember that Enoch was taken off the earth more than a hundred years before the flood. This does not suggest that he was being “raptured” to avoid the flood. And Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind, in a chariot of fire when no tribulation was at hand. These “types” hardly support a pre-trib rapture. We must be careful not to develop doctrines from “types” especially when those “types” are not consistent with the whole of Scripture.
God does at times deliver people from trials and tribulation, but it is also Biblical to suggest that God gives His people strength and endurance to persevere through trials and tribulation. Should we pray for “rapture” or “resilience?” You decide what is more Biblical.
Reason #5         raptUre
“U” stands for “Unnecessary.” It is unnecessary that the Church be raptured before the Tribulation. Honestly, why do people say the church needs to be raptured? Some say that the Church must be taken out of the way so that God can continue His plan for the Nation of Israel. This suggests that God can’t do two things at once. This is silly. God can work with the Nation of Israel and the Church simultaneously, just as He did when Jesus came the first time and just as he is doing today. The Church is not in God’s way. Remember in Reason #2 I mentioned that the description of the “Tribulation saints” in the Book of Revelation is a perfect description of what the Church is. They are called “saints, brethren, those who have the testimony of Jesus Christ, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.” This is exactly what the Church is today. If the Tribulation saints in Revelation appear to be exactly what the Church is today, then why rapture the church at all. Could it be that the Book of Revelation is describing the Church in the Tribulation, rather than an entirely different “brand” of New Testament believer? The believers in Revelation serve and worship God alongside the Nation of Israel all the way until the Lord returns. It seems that we have more Biblical support for believing that the Church will continue alongside the nation of Israel through the tribulation until the end when the Lord returns without ever experiencing God’s wrath. Also, saved “Israel” according to the New Testament is saved “into” the Church, not apart from it. The Church is both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew). Saved Israel are believing Israelites or Jews within the multi-ethnic global Christian Church. According to the New Testament there is absolutely no salvation for any Israelite outside of faith in Jesus Christ and becoming part of the body of the true Christian Church. You see, it is absolutely unnecessary for the Church to be removed, rescued or raptured from the Tribulation when the Tribulation saints and saved Israel survive through the Tribulation. And we know that God has not appointed the Tribulation saints or saved Israel to wrath, but preserves, protects and saves them throughout the Tribulation while He pours out His wrath upon the wicked.
Reason #6         raptuRe
“R” here stands for “Resurrection of the Dead.”
In the Bible the Resurrection of the dead always precedes the Rapture at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures. Always! Read 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. These two passages are the “rapture” passages, and both of them clearly tell us the chronological order of events. In both passages we see that first the Lord returns, then there is the resurrection of the dead, and finally there is the rapture of those who are alive at His coming. This is the very plain and clear reading of the verses in context. Why would we reverse the order of those passages to teach that first the rapture happens 7 years before the Lord returns and then is the resurrection of the dead? This is not what the Bible teaches. Don’t take my word for it, read the passages yourself and you will see that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 the Scriptures teach us that first the Lord descends, then the dead are raised (the resurrection of the dead), and after the dead are raised then those who are alive shall be “caught up” (raptured) to be with the Lord forever.
There is a very clear sequence of events here:
1.The Lord returns 2. The resurrection of the dead 3. The rapture of the living.
When we read through the New Testament and study when the Lord is going to return you will notice that it is always “after” the Tribulation and never before. Whether it’s the Gospels, the Epistles or the Book of Revelation we always read of the Lord coming at the end of the Tribulation and never before. This is important because if we add up the order of events we must conclude that:
1. The Tribulation occurs
2. Then afterwards the Lord Returns
3. Then is the Resurrection of the dead
4. and last is the Rapture of the living.
Why would we ever want to twist and change the clear order of events as outlined in Scripture and place the Rapture which is last to be before the tribulation and 7 years before the return of Christ? If someone notices that the rapture always happens after the resurrection then they should question the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture. I certainly understand the Scriptures that are used to support the pre-tribulation rapture idea because I used to believe it. This view is very popular today, however to come to such a conclusion one must pull Scriptures out of their immediate context, change the order of events, and create an end times scenario that is not clearly, nor chronologically taught in the Bible. A text taken out of context becomes a pretext. Regardless of how popular a certain view is, we should allow the Scriptures in context to establish our views concerning past times, present times and the end times.
Reason #7         rapturE
“E” stands for “Escape?” The rapture is really an “escape” from having hard-times in the end-times. But did you know that Jesus prayed against the rapture in John 17:15? He prayed for protection from the enemy, not a rapture. In John 17:15 Jesus prays, “I do not pray that You (the Father) should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” This is a powerful prayer and statement made by Jesus Himself. He certainly would not have prayed this if He was intending to “rapture” them and take them out of the world. Also, the word “keep” in this passage is the same as the word “keep” in Revelation 3:10 when He says specifically to the Church of Philadelphia, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will “keep” you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” We have already seen in our Reason #4 that God is completely capable of “keeping” His people protected without having to take them out of the world. We should also consider that Revelation 3:10 was given specifically to the church of Philadelphia, and nowhere is there any implication that it was given to suggest a secret rapture of certain believers living in the end times. God can “keep” us without removing us. If Jesus prayed that His disciples would not be taken out of the world but protected from the evil one, then why should I expect to be taken out of the world rather than protected from the evil one. If His prayer was good enough for His disciples then it is good enough for me. The Jews expected rescue from Roman oppression the first time Jesus came and were surprised when all He gave them was salvation, the Holy Spirit and supernatural strength. As God’s people we should be careful not to commit the same mistake regarding end times.
The idea or hope of some “special rapture” for certain believers could create a false expectation in the hearts of God’s people. Rather than expecting strength and power to endure hardship and tribulation they could be expecting rescue and escape.
The Church has been called to be a shining light and a beacon of hope in times of tribulation. And the Church has been known to shine the brightest when times are darkest. I suggest that the last thing a merciful God would want for a world in the midst of Tribulation is to remove His Church and leave the world on its own. The Church has a message of hope and love and power for a world that’s perishing. Jesus Christ not only offers eternal life, forgiveness and a relationship with God through His death on the cross and his resurrection, He also offers supernatural power to those who are weak. And His grace empowers His people to endure, not escape, to be resilient rather than expect rescue. Jesus prayed for His disciples not to be taken out of this world but to be protected from the evil one. Therefore, I cannot believe in a pre-tribulation rapture. And I cannot teach something that Jesus prayed against.

In Summary:
RThe “Rapture” of the Church before the Tribulation and 7 years before the Second coming of Christ is nowhere taught in the Bible. Nowhere! The pre-tribulation rapture theory is a system that must take Scripture out of its context and out of chronological order. Someone would not conclude a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church just by reading the Bible in context.
AAlways “saints” in the New Testament are believers in the Church. There are multitudes of “saints” throughout the Tribulation period in the Book of Revelation, therefore the Church is present on earth during the Tribulation period, “not appointed to wrath,” and protected by God.
PPeter, Paul and Jesus never taught that the Lord was returning immediately or in their lifetimes. Peter knew he would die a martyr, Paul knew he would witness to Jews, Gentiles and Kings and Jesus taught parables about His coming being delayed and unpredictable.
T- “Types” in the Bible lend more support to God leaving His people in the midst of trial and tribulation while protecting them rather than rescuing and removing them from the planet in order to escape hardship.
UIt is absolutely unnecessary to rapture and remove the Church during the Tribulation. The Church is a beacon of hope in difficult times and shines the brightest when it’s the darkest. God in His love and mercy for this world will leave His Church here to witness of Him and win multitudes to faith in Christ before the final return of Jesus Christ.
RThe Biblical Chronological sequence of events regarding end-times is always: 1-The Return of Christ 2-The Resurrection of the Dead 3–The Rapture of the Living. These events happen at the same time AFTER the Tribulation, not before.
E“Escape?” Jesus prayed against the rapture in John 17:15 and instead prayed that His followers would be protected from evil one. I cannot believe or teach something Jesus directly prayed against.

The Most Important Thing
Regardless of your “End-Times” view and whether or not you believe the Church is going to be raptured before the Tribulation, in the middle of the Tribulation, after the Tribulation or at the final end of the age, the most important thing is that you truly know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came from heaven to earth for one reason; to die on the cross for our sins and take the judgment you and I deserve for sinning against God. Three days later He rose again from the dead, defeating death, conquering sin and the grave, and destroying the powers of hell. He is now alive, seated at the Right Hand of God the Father and offers eternal life, forgiveness of all sin, and a living, loving relationship with God as a free gift. We have all broken God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments. We have lied and most of us have stolen something or taken something without asking. We have dishonored our parents at times. We have used God’s Name in vain and committed blasphemy. And many of us have used God’s Son, Jesus Christ’s Name in vain and offended God. The Bible teaches that if we look to lust after someone we have committed adultery in our heart. And if we hate someone it is seen as murder of the heart. It’s obvious we’re all guilty of breaking God’s Law and we’re in desperate need of forgiveness and a Savior. Jesus is that Savior. We broke the Law of God and Jesus came to die on the cross and pay our fine. Because He is alive today you can repent and pray to Him and ask Him for forgiveness and salvation. He will listen to you and if you’ve sincerely come to the end of yourself and want God to step in and help you, He will. Jesus has been saving and changing the lives of millions of people for 2000 years. Even before that He was with God offering salvation and forgiveness to people who believed in the one true God before Jesus ever came to earth to die on the cross. And He will continue to offer salvation to as many as call upon Him and trust in Him until the end of time. He is God of the past, present and future. He is the Great I AM. We do not know exactly when Jesus is going to return and wrap up history. He could come today, tomorrow or a thousand years from now. But we do know one thing, you and I are going to die within the next 100 years and we are going to meet our Maker. Our view of end-times won’t matter much when that happens, but our view of Jesus Christ will. Our own personal “end times” is coming soon and so it is essential that we know Jesus Christ and serve Him all the days that God gives us. As we serve Him let us pray that He delays His coming so that our family, friends, coworkers, classmates and even unborn children will have an opportunity to know Him and escape the true “wrath of God,” eternity in hell. Christ died for sins and rose from the grave, trust in Him and you will be saved. You’ve got God’s Word on it!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why I've decided not to plant a Calvary Chapel church

This is a blog I wrote in the Spring of 2011 after we had moved to North Carolina that summarizes some of the main reasons I chose to remain non-denominational rather than start a Calvary Chapel. I hope this post is able to help people understand my heart as well as encourage others who might have wrestled with similar decisions. So, if anyone ever asks you, "Why didn't Greg plant a Calvary Chapel?" just send them to this blog.

I was saved in a Calvary Chapel on June 18, 2000, and my very first Christian experiences were within the loving community of Calvary Chapels. I felt so blessed to be saved and discipled in a church that pointed me to Jesus, taught me the Bible every week verse by verse, emphasized serving God with your life and was heavily involved in mission work. Within a year after I was saved I left my career job at the gas company and went to Calvary Chapel Bible College for 2 years in hopes of learning the Bible more and preparing myself to serve God for the rest of my life. After Bible College I was hired on at my home church in Las Vegas as the night time janitor. Over the next 6 years I would be blessed with the privilege to serve as young adult pastor, high school pastor, and in evangelism and follow-up ministry. In Fall of 2010 I was "ordained" by my home church as a pastor and sent out to North Carolina as a minister in hopes of starting an independent church. It was with this 10 history within Calvary Chapel that later people would ask, "So, why aren't you going to plant a Calvary Chapel?" Well, here's my long answer.

Let me say that I absolutely love Calvary Chapel Churches and the "non-denominational denomination" of Calvary Chapel. Without question Calvary Chapels emphasize the verse by verse teaching of the entire Word of God, a worship and praise experience that focuses on Jesus Christ, and an atmosphere that is accepting to anyone regardless of your background or appearance. These are all qualities that I believe every church should embrace and emphasize as I know from personal experience that I have grown and matured in the faith because of this unwavering emphasis of Calvary Chapel and specifically my home church in Las Vegas. With all that said I want it to be known that this blog is not "anti-Calvary Chapel," nor an attempt to create any kind of division. This is a brief explanation of why I personally have not felt called to start a Calvary Chapel church and a way to answer those who have asked or those who didn't.

Well, in one long sentence the catalyst for eventually stepping out of the Calvary Chapel denomination was that I came to hold a different view regarding eschatology (end times), the various sub-topics connected with that, as well as I had a personal desire to freely serve the Lord apart from what I felt to be extra-biblical restraints and loyalties held by Calvary Chapel. Click the following link for my biblical and practical reasons for not holding to a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. Go to: R.A.P.T.U.R.E.-When? That blog post summarizes well over 100 hours of study about the rapture. Unfortunately once my views about end times changed it was just a matter of time before I had to change denominations. I have a genuine appreciation for my home church and the Calvary Chapel denomination, but ultimately as a follower of Christ I am committed to the global Body of Christ and a desire to serve the Lord with a clear conscience. Over time through much study and prayer and "soul searching" I had to come to the conclusion that Calvary Chapel was not the denomination God was calling me to serve in as a paid minister. Ultimately, confronted with a conflict of conscience and loyalties I came to a place where I could no longer believe or teach certain views with conviction, and that hindered my ability to be completely loyal to the Calvary Chapel model.

Making the decision to step out of Calvary Chapel was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in my Christian walk, but for me personally it has been a necessary part of God's will for my life as I can now serve Him freely with a clear conscience and uncompromised conviction. While I have learned valuable truths and been given priceless opportunities while at Calvary Chapel I had to step out and test the truths of God's Word on my own without the safety net of denominational security. For those of you familiar with Calvary Chapels you will understand my reasons for leaving and not starting a Calvary, while at the same time I hope those of you who embrace the "Calvary Chapel Distinctives" will be encouraged to continue to serve God with a clear conscience within the Calvary network.

The following are also some of my reasons for not planting a Calvary Chapel:

1-I want to do what Chuck Smith (the founder of Calvary Chapels) did when he first started Calvary Chapels. I want to take a step of faith that is unshackled by denominational and non-denominational differences and distinctives that cause divisions among genuine believers. Chuck Smith left his denomination because he wanted to return to a simpler and more biblical approach to ministry. Chuck was looking to follow God's leading in pastoral ministry and church planting rather than pursue a ministerial career in some denomination. Chuck was not rebelling against his denomination, seeking to cause any division, nor was he looking to recreate what he had learned. Chuck was following his conscience and convictions both doctrinally and philosophically. He was taking a step of faith and trusting God with the results. I want to follow Chuck Smith's example and take a personal venture of faith. I'm not looking to start a new denomination or a "new kind of church" or even claim to have any new perspective, I'm just wanting to start from scratch in a sense and see what God does. Chuck Smith left all believers an example of someone who followed the leading of God's Spirit to do something unconventional, risky and biblical. Whether someone is looking to start a church, a ministry or any enterprise for God, they can look to Chuck Smith's example as a man after God's heart, who walked with God, listened to God, obeyed God against all odds and denominational norms, took a leap of faith and left a legacy of faith not only for those within the Calvary Chapel network, but those within the Body of Christ at large! Praise God for men like Chuck who have lived out the faith like those in the Bible. Let's imitate such men and see what God does. I realize that this does not mean we're all called to leave a church or denomination, but it does mean that we should be willing to should our convictions change or God's Spirit lead us out. This can be a very painful process, but certainly a process God uses to move his people around and place them where they need to be.

2-The Calvary Chapel Movement in the 60's and 70's was a powerful move of God's Spirit for that generation and God continues to use Calvary Chapel Churches throughout the world. But like many movements of God's Spirit that begin fresh and alive, flexible and free, over time they can become stale, dying, rigid and controlled by men. This has been the case for "denominations" and we can even say "non-denomination denominations" throughout history. This does not mean that every local church within a dead or dying denomination is dead, nor does it mean that God no longer uses those denominational churches at all. What I am saying is that if God's Spirit were seeking to do something new, something "out-side the box" for this present generation it most likely will not happen nor has it happened within the doctrinal or philosophical distinctives of any particular denomination. God will work through existing denominations and even breathe fresh life and revival into denominational churches. But history has shown that once a denomination forms its doctrinal and philosophical views it has to some degree limited its availability to God. I will say this though. There are many godly men and women who have been Spirit-led to pursue a ministerial calling within a particular denomination or non-denomination and they have been used mightily by God within their particular church denomination. There have been those who completely agreed with a denomination's distictives and statement of faith that they felt free to serve God with a clear conscience unhindered by any differences or even politics. Praise God! And we know that denominations of old are continuing to be used mightily by God for evangelizing and discipling the nations. But we also know that many older denominations have begun to fossilize by their stubborn allegiance to tradition over the Word of God, by politics and man-pleasing within the ranks of leadership, by an over emphasis on Church buildings or structures, and yes, even by the professionalizing of ministerial positions that has turned many churches into businesses. These things destroy a genuine move of God's Spirit, not to mention those denominations who over time have chosen to depart from the authority of God's Word and give heed to cultural reinterpretations of everything from the Person and work of Jesus Christ, to the practice and acceptance of various sinful behaviors. It seems that every denomination goes through a life cycle similar to a person: 1-vibrant life 2-joyful growth 3-self awareness 4-a need for identity 5-create an identity 6-Identity fixed 7-reproduction 8-parenting 9-midlife crisis 10-flexing identity and slow death

I’d like to be as free as possible to watch and listen to what I believe God's Spirit is doing for this generation without having to say,"Sorry Lord, I can't go do that or teach that because my denomination won't let me."

I think about it this way, unfortunately I am not "free" at my job to just preach Christ all day, teach God's Word and minister to people whenever and however I "feel led by God" or I will lose my job eventually. Indirectly I put God in a box and tell God, "OK God, I will serve You today however You want as long as it's according to my boss's rules." I'm already confessing that I'm not completely free to serve God however "I want." But my point is this, serving God should be Spirit led and personal, not controlled or restricted by people. It’s one thing to say, "I can't preach the Gospel at work or I'll get fired and they're not paying me to preach but work." It’s totally different to say, "I can't preach the full Gospel message or entire Word of God at my church because my denomination won't let me." And there are some churches today that shy away from actually preaching the Gospel and discourage it among their people. Certainly that's not the case with Calvary Chapels or other denominations, but we should be free to serve God under the authority of the Scriptures, even if we do come to different conclusions about things like, spiritual gifts, baptisms, God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, end times, covenants, etc. It’s crazy how the distictives of one denomination will push you out while another will take you in. Let me close my 2nd point with this. I feel that Calvary Chapel as a non-denomination movement of God back in the 70's has become a modern non-denominational denomination that has in some ways lost its freshness. The Calvary Chapels that continue to thrive will be led by ministers who are Spirit filled and simultaneously embrace all the particular Calvary Chapel denominational distinctives. I'm sensing though that we are one the edge of God doing a new work in our generation that does not fit the molds of the previous generations, and I feel free to watch and listen and wait and see. I think God is leading His people gently away from formal, flashy, impersonal Christianity and into a more raw, real, relational adventure with God and brothers and sisters in Christ. I do hold fast that God's work will always be consistent with the Scriptures but potentially violent against our Christian traditions and trappings. I stepped out of Calvary Chapel to hopefully watch from the outside how that particular denomination along with others will fix their place in Church history. This has been a healthy move for me personally.

3-I do not embrace dogmatically all the Calvary Chapel Distinctives as revealed in Chuck Smith's book. When I got saved at Calvary I was so excited to know God and serve God. I was so blessed to get saved in a casual Bible teaching church that I knew I could just grow in Christ and serve God and build His Kingdom. It was so obvious through learning God's word that there was only one true global Church of Jesus Christ made up of true believers of all shapes and sizes, brands and denominations. I had no idea that as I would grow in understanding God's Word that if I wanted to continue to serve God in Calvary Chapel my beliefs about doctrines and philosophy of ministry would need to fall within the narrow guidelines of the Calvary Chapel Distinctives. As I grew and ministered and did evangelism on the streets with other believers from other denominations I unknowingly prided myself as being part of Calvary Chapel, thinking we had the best balance all around. Over time I could see my arrogance and sought more understanding about why people might hold to other views about different things. Through evangelism and discipleship I investigated a lot of information on churches, doctrines, apologetics, cults, evolution, creation, Biblical interpretation, etc. I also became introduced to various great bible teachers that weren't Calvary Chapel pastors. I grew to have a real appreciation for all the various denominational styles and bible teachers. I loved how global and diverse the Body of Christ was and it became less and less a threat to me to meet a believer who believed different than me about some particular topic. Through interacting with other believers and teachers from other denominations and fellowships my personal distinctives no longer fit within the parameters of the Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Over time, through studying God’s Word thoroughly regarding all the different views about end times, Bible prophecy, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ I no longer held the Calvary Chapel position of a pre-tribulation rapture of the church, and I also have an appreciation for the various forms of church government knowing that they each have their strengths and weaknesses depending on the leadership and application. Last year I had to make a decision to either pursue a ministerial calling within the Calvary Chapel denomination, embrace all the Calvary Chapel Distinctives and compromise my convictions regarding end times and philosophy of ministry or step out of Calvary Chapel and pursue God’s calling outside of the denomination. Obviously there was only one decision I could make. I could not embrace, teach or represent something I personally do not believe, and so stepped down from being a Calvary Chapel minister and stepped into ministry outside of the Calvary Chapel denomination. Once a person holds a different view about an issue that your denomination holds important your time is pretty much up, and you need to seek God to lead you elsewhere. Otherwise that particular issue can create a division between you and the vision and direction of that church. The painful part is knowing when and how to leave. I'm thankful that God gave great grace and wisdom to the men who were overseeing me through all this. God surrounded me with godly leadership and graciously covered my transition out of Calvary Chapel with love, support and acceptance. I love Calvary Chapels as a denomination, and I specifically love my home church in Las Vegas, and more specifically the godly men and women and pastors that loved me into God’s will, and helped me to transition out of the Calvary Chapel denomination.

4. There is a passage of Scripture that I think encapsulates the Biblical point of why I've decided not to label myself by any denomination or teacher. While I do not believe there is anything necessarily wrong with denominations or ministries named after people, I can see how sometimes particular labels can be overemphasized to the point of creating an unnecessary division among believers. Anyway, in 1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 3 Paul the Apostle addresses a particular issue or should I say carnal attitude that was being spread throughout the church there, and that was the issue of Christians choosing to form a loyalty to particular teachers or pastors over other teachers and pastors. This began to create divisions among genuine believers and a feeling of spiritual superiority that some believers had over others. Paul talks about how some people in that church preferred Apollos' teaching or ministry over Peter's teaching, and others chose to side with Paul, while others claimed to specifically be committed to Christ. Believer's became so identified with a particular teacher, minister or ministry that they identified themselves by that particular person. Some of these believers were saying, "I'm of Paul" or "I'm of Apollos" or "I'm of Peter" and some who perhaps thought themselves to be super-spiritual said, "I'm of Christ!" And so in the city of Corinth genuine believers were divided according to whatever particular teacher they aligned themselves with. And so how does God, by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul deal with this? Well, God says unapologetically that they were acting like a bunch of babies and being carnal, not spiritual at all. He reminds them that God's ministers all work together for the benefit of all, not against each other, and it is God who ultimately gives growth in ministries and believers. Paul would preach, Apollos would teach, Peter would also minister, but it is God who works beneath the surface, in the hearts of people and gives growth and multiplication in the church because it is His church. And finally at the end of chapter 3 Paul would conclude that God has given all His ministers for everyone, that every believer was to take advantage of the teaching and ministry of Paul or Apollos or Peter, rather than dividing over those ministers and ministries. He says that we are all Christ's, and Christ is God's and we all belong to God and therefore all should have access to all of God's ministers and ministries, because we are all part of one large global Body of Christ. But what do we see today, now that we are 2000 years down the road of Christian church history and the Body of Christ? Well, in America we see a wide diversity of genuine believers in Jesus all distributed throughout various denominations and non-denominations and churches who unfortunately identify themselves by their denomination, church, tradition, pastor or a particular style of ministry or doctrine. We have some saying "I'm of Chuck Smith" others say "I'm of Chuck Swindoll" and others saying "I'm of Chuck Stanley" while others say "I'm of Chuck Norris!" Actually no one is "of Chuck Norris" and Chuck Norris is of no one, and don't forget it. Just kidding. Anyway, no really, we have awesome believers in Jesus who identify themselves by saying, "I'm a Pentecostal" or "I'm a Calvinist" or "I'm a Baptist," "Reformed Baptist", "Free Will Baptist", "Anabaptist", "Episcopal", "Presbyterian," "Methodist", "Lutheran", or even "Of Calvary Chapel." And there is nothing necessarily wrong with sharing what church community you belong to until it becomes a dividing marker by which you judge, cut off or even criticize other believers of other groups. I'm leery when I meet a fellow believer and they feel compelled to identify their particular denomination, pastor, or doctrine of importance. To me it is no difference between that and what Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians when he rebuked those believers for identifying themselves by a particular teacher. I want to be free from always feeling compelled to fall within the particular framework of pastor teacher Chuck Smith, and the Calvary Chapel denomination. If I chose to commit to being a "Calvary Chapel" pastor or minister then I am locked into certain particular secondary doctrinal beliefs and philosophical beliefs about church ministry and government. Should I grow in my understanding of certain things or change my views in such a way that they differ with Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel then I am compelled to leave the denomination. And this is what I have done. But as a believer in Jesus Christ I am still part of and connected to the global Body of Christ even though I am disqualified from being a certified minister of the Calvary Chapel denomination. I believe that whether it is Chuck Smith, John Calvin, Charles Stanley, Billy Graham, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Adrian Rogers, etc. or any saint who has ever lived or who will ever live, that their teachings and ministries belong to all believers, not just those associated with their churches, ministries or denominations. I know many believers hold this to be true, but practically it can be hard to shepherd and facilitate a flock of sheep that hold different views about different doctrines. And so to some degree you just can't escape having a particular label or the necessity of clarifying what beliefs or doctrines you hold dear. And therefore we have denominations. But I'm trying to work through minimizing what I might consider to be extra-biblical or non-biblical loyalties. I suppose everyone seeking to understand God's Word, represent Him faithfully, disciple others and do ministry must work through these very same issues. Regardless, we should be careful not to be carnal and commit our loyalties and allegiance to any particular man, ministry, or method more than we're committed to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and His global Bride, the Church!

Let me close with a word for those being discipled and trained as a minister within the Calvary Chapel denomination either as a paid member or volunteer. Perhaps you're being raised up to be a counselor, minister, pastor or church planter. Well, I would encourage you to ask yourself a couple questions:

1-Have you thoroughly studied the Calvary Chapel Distinctives and the distinctives of other ministries enough that you would want your personal life with God and your ministries to be defined by those particular distinctives? Or do you just embrace the Calvary Chapel Distinctives out of convenience and safety or job security having never really studied or considered any other alternative views?

2-Do you realize that once you agree with and embrace the distinctives then you have officially hedged yourself in to the Calvary Chapel philosophy of ministry and Calvary Chapel doctrine? This has great benefits, but some negatives:

+ You have the fellowship, support, accountability, leadership and resources available to you within the Calvary Chapel network

+ You become part of a "movement" and denomination that has a wonderful reputation throughout the world.

- The negative is that you are not free to change your philosophical or doctrinal views without difficulty. And for those who start out just freely serving God within a Calvary Chapel and over time pastor and teach and then come to conclusions that differ from the Calvary Chapel way, this can be devastating. But like all trials, God pulls you through. (This is my experience.)

And so you must weigh the pros and cons and maintain a clear conscience with God. For those who can serve God with a clear conscience and doctrinal conviction within the Calvary Chapel network, may God bless and empower your ministries for His glory! And for those of you who, like myself, find yourselves at a cross-roads and feel led to step out of or step down from a Calvary Chapel ministry, may God lead you to that place where you feel free to serve God wholeheartedly, unhindered by a conflict of conscience and able to champion a fresh work of God for this next generation! And may God give you both the courage and faith to serve Him separately in the same direction.

Whether we're part of a Calvary Chapel, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, non-reformed or any other non-denominational fellowship, may we all keep the Lord Jesus Christ central, His Word essential, and His will for our lives non-negotiable. To Him be the glory both now and forever!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

January 2012-GRACE

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." -Ephesians 1:2

Hi Everyone!
I really wanted to start the new year of blogs off with a post that focuses on everything God has to offer us, "GRACE!" Grace is what sets Jesus Christ apart from all other, so called "messengers of God". While multitudes of religions bring us endless laws and rules and regulations, Jesus alone disperses the unmerited and undeserved endless "Grace" of God. Jesus came to give to us everything we need but could never obtain on our own, God's favor. He also came to save us from everything we deserve, justice, judgment and hell. This year may God's grace embrace you, encourage you and empower you to live for Him. May He keep you from falling into a religious rut. And may the Gospel of God's Grace fill you with renewed strength and vision to accomplish His will this year.

Here's a short poem I read that really embodies the difference between trying to work for your salvation versus trusting in the grace of Christ.

"Do this and live the law commands,
but gives me neither feet nor hands.
A sweeter sound the Gospel brings,
it bids me fly and gives me wings."
-Old Poet

Here are a few of my favorite verses about "God's grace."

"And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." -John 1:16-17

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9

"And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work." -2 Corinthians 9:8

"And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." -2 Corinthians 12:9-10

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." -Ephesians 2:8-9

"But He gives more grace. Therefore He says; "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." -James 4:6

Some have used the following acronym to define God's G.R.A.C.E.

G- God's
R- Riches
A- At
C- Christ's
E- Expense


G- Glorious
R- Realities
A- As
C- Christ
E- Empowers

And finally I'd like to close with a great song that really embodies the grace of God.

He Giveth More Grace

By Annie J. Flint

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,

He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;

To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,

To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources

Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,

Our God ever yearns His resources to share;

Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;

The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

May God help us to receive and reflect His amazing GRACE this year!
With Love,
-The Stephens Family