In a broad, general sense, Calvary Chapel is the middle ground between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism in modern Protestant theology. In fact, we believe that this is at least a part of the reason why God has raised up this ministry.
Fundamentalism is that portion of Protestantism that holds to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures, believing that they are divinely inspired and inerrant. Hence, the “fundamentals” of the faith are emphasized. Although the modern news media and the liberal church scorn fundamentalists as backwards and stupid, the truth is that fundamentalism has preserved the integrity of God’s Word and held on to the essential doctrines of the orthodox faith.
Azusa Street Revival
Pentecostalism as a modern movement grew out of the 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles. It spawned denominations that emphasize the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual and Scriptural gifts of the Spirit, which had fallen dormant in main-line churches. Also criticized by the liberal church and news media as being emotionally driven, Pentecostalism restored to the church the importance of gifts of the Spirit and the power of God for the believer today. Over the years, however, fundamentalism, while it maintained the integrity of God’s Word, tended to become rigid, legalistic, and refused to believe that spiritual gifts were for today. Similarly, Pentecostalism became enthusiastic and emotional at the expense of the teaching of God’s Word.
Calvary Chapel: The Balance
Calvary Chapel is the balance between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. We believe in and encourage the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the Bible — but always decently and in order according to God’s Holy Word, which we look to as our primary rule of faith.
Pastor Chuck Smith says:
“We believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Scriptures, and that they are valid for today — if they are exercised within the Scriptural guidelines. We as believers are to covet the best gifts, seeking to exercise them in love, so that the whole Body of Christ might be edified. We believe that love is more important than the most spectacular gifts, and without this love all exercise of spiritual gifts is worthless.”
Verse-by-Verse Teaching of God’s Word
Because of this balance, Calvary Chapel services are centered around the verse–by–verse teaching of God’s Word. Frequent “after glow” services are provided where the gifts of the Holy Spirit can operate freely under the leadership of mature Christians. Many Pentecostals believe that Calvary Chapel is not emotional enough, and many fundamentalists believe Calvary Chapel is too emotional. That balance is indication, in my opinion, that we are right where God wants us to be.
Denominational Church Governance
Most denominational churches maintain one of three forms of church government: Congregational, Episcopal or Presbyterian. These three terms should not be confused with the denominations that bear the same names because other churches of different names share the same styles of government.
The congregational form of church government is an American invention and appeals to our American sense of democracy. Basically, the congregation as a whole makes all decisions in these churches by voting on matters of importance and appointing committees from its ranks to run the daily operation of the church. Most Congregational, Baptist, Pentecostal, Brethren, and non-denominational churches are organized in this fashion. The congregation votes on hiring a pastor, votes on how to spend the money, and on anything else of importance. Although democratic people like the idea, congregational forms of church government often wind up at best causing the pastor to be directed by the sheep he is supposed to lead, and at worst reducing the pastor to a hireling.
The Episcopal form of church government implemented by Episcopalian, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist churches (to name a few) is controlled by a church hierarchy, which may have differing names. Basically, there is a bishop, or someone of similar stature, who oversees the churches, appoints pastors to pulpits, sets policy, and guides the vision of the local congregations. Unfortunately, this style of government, which grew out of European monarchies, leaves little freedom for the local pastor or congregation to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The Presbyterian form of church government, which is typical in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, puts the decisions of church polity in the hands of a select group of elders (the “presbytery”) who are appointed in various ways, depending on the church. These elders are over the pastor, who in turn is over the congregation. The problem here too is that this system puts the God-appointed leader, the pastor, under some of those he is supposed to lead.
Calvary Chapels Method of Governance
Calvary Chapels are organized differently and its church government is simple. We believe that the pastor is responsible to feed and love His people faithfully. Elders are appointed in the larger churches to help the pastor care for the spiritual needs of the congregation, and Deacons are appointed to help the pastor care for the material needs of the church.
In addition, we have church boards as required by most states, which vary in size depending on congregation size, and are typically comprised of mature Christian businessmen. The Deacons advise the pastor with respect to the business operations and decisions of the church pertaining to property management and investments. At Calvary Chapel, church organization is de-emphasized, and only the organization that is needed to run the church is instituted. The pastor guides the church as the Holy Spirit leads him. We believe that the placement of pastors within the body is by God’s guidance.