The Most Important Thing
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.
Thanks for reading.
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.