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Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel
Calvary Chapel's logo
Formation 1965
Type Evangelical
A Calvary Chapel, housed in the former Montesano Theatre, Montesano, Washington.

Calvary Chapel is an evangelical[1] 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[2][3] with over one thousand congregations worldwide.[4] Churches that 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, charismatic, pretribulationist, and believes in the principle of sola scriptura.[5]

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.[6][7][8] Typically, Calvary Chapels operate under a senior pastor-led system of church government, sometimes referred to as the "Moses" model.[9][10]


  • History 1
  • Doctrine 2
    • Calvinism and Arminianism 2.1
    • Spiritual gifts 2.2
    • Baptism and Communion 2.3
    • Eschatology 2.4
    • Return of Christ in 1981 2.5
      • "Generation" living in 1948 2.5.1
  • Practices 3
  • Organization 4
  • Criticisms 5
    • Accountability of the pastorate system 5.1
  • Ministries 6
    • Bible college 6.1
    • Harvest Crusades 6.2
    • Broadcasting 6.3
  • Notable people 7
    • Pastors 7.1
    • Musicians 7.2
  • External links 8
  • References 9


While Chuck Smith was still a member of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, he reported a prophecy came to him in which the Lord said to him that He was changing his name. His new name would mean "Shepherd" because the Lord was going to make him the shepherd of many flocks and the church would not be large enough to hold all of the people who would be flocking to hear the Word of God.[11] In December 1965, Smith became the pastor of a 25-person congregation and in 1968 broke away from the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Santa Ana, California. Before Smith became their pastor, twelve of the 25 members attended a prayer meeting about whether or not to close their church: they reported that "the Holy Spirit spoke to them through prophecy" and told them that Smith would become their pastor, that he would want to elevate the platform area, that God would bless the church, that it would go on the radio, that the church would become overcrowded, and that he would become known throughout the world.[12]

An almost identical prophecy was recorded in Smith's book Harvest where the prophecy was delivered to 16 discouraged people ready to quit.[13] In 1969, Calvary Chapel became a hub in what later became known as the Jesus Movement when Smith's daughter introduced him to her boyfriend John Higgins Jr., a former hippie who had become a Christian, and who went on to head the largest Jesus Freak movement in history, the Shiloh Youth Revival Centers.[14] John Higgins introduced Smith to Lonnie Frisbee, the "hippie evangelist" who became a key figure in the growth of both the Jesus Movement and in Calvary Chapel. Frisbee moved into Smith's home, and he would minister to the other hippies and counter-culture youth on the beaches. At night he would bring home new converts and soon Smith's house was full.[15] Frisbee was put in charge of a new rental home for the steadily growing crowd of Christian hippies and he named the commune House of Miracles; other House of Miracles would be set up throughout California and beyond. As Calvary Chapel grew "explosively",[16] a tent was erected while a new building was under construction.[17]

Among the converts were musicians who now were writing music for praise and worship. This became the genesis for Jesus music and Christian rock concerts. Maranatha Music was eventually formed to publish and promote the music.[16] The services usually resembled rock concerts more than any worship services of the time.[18] Frisbee was featured in national television news reports and magazines with images of him baptizing hundreds in the Pacific Ocean at a time.[19] The network of House of Miracles communes/crash pad/coffee houses began doing outreach concerts with Smith or Frisbee preaching, Frisbee calling forth the Holy Spirit and the newly forming bands playing the music.[15] By the early 1970s Calvary Chapel was home to ten or more musical groups that were representative of the Jesus people movement.[20]

In 1982, John Wimber, a Calvary Chapel pastor, and the Calvary Chapel leadership mutually agreed to part ways. Tension had been mounting over Wimber's emphasis on spiritual manifestations leading Wimber to withdraw from Calvary Chapel and affiliate with a network of churches that would become the Association of Vineyard Churches.[21][22] On October 3, 2013, Pastor Smith died after a long battle with lung cancer. Smith remained as the senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa during his battle with cancer - to include preaching at three services the Sunday before his death.[23]


Affiliates of Calvary Chapel believe in the fundamental doctrines of evangelical Christianity, which include the inerrancy of the Bible and the Trinity. Within evangelical Christianity, they say that they stand in the "middle ground between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism in modern Protestant theology". While they share with fundamentalism a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, unlike fundamentalists, they accept spiritual gifts. However, they feel that Pentecostalism values experience at the expense of the word of God.[5]

Calvinism and Arminianism

According to Calvary Chapel literature, the association strives to "strik[e] a balance between extremes" when it comes to controversial theological issues such as Calvinism's and Arminianism's conflicting views on salvation. Calvary Chapels hold the following views on the five points of Calvinism:

  1. Regarding total depravity, Calvary Chapel affirms that "apart from God's grace, no one can be saved," and that "mankind is clearly fallen and lost in sin."[24]
  2. Regarding unconditional election, Calvary Chapel affirms that God, "based on his foreknowledge, has predestined the believer," and that "God clearly does choose, but man must also accept God's invitation to salvation."[25]
  3. Regarding limited atonement, Calvary Chapel affirms that Jesus died "for the whole world" and that the "atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was clearly sufficient to save the entire human race."[26]
  4. Regarding irresistible grace, Calvary Chapel affirms that "God's grace can either be resisted or received by the exercise of human free will".[27]
  5. Calvary Chapels "believe in the perseverance of the saints (true believers) but are deeply concerned about sinful lifestyles and rebellious hearts among those who call themselves 'Christians'."[28]

Spiritual gifts

Although Calvary Chapel believes in the continuing efficacy of the gift of tongues, it does not recognize uninterpreted tongues spoken in a congregational setting as necessarily inspired (or at least directed) by the Holy Spirit because of its understanding of 1 Corinthians 14. Calvary Chapel accepts that the Bible affirms interpreted tongues and modern prophecy. Practicing tongues in private occurs more commonly.[29] Calvary Chapel does not teach that the outward manifestation of every Christian counts as speaking in tongues. Instead, the movement's theologians regard speaking in tongues as one of the many gifts of the Spirit and see believers as blessed as the Spirit moves.

Similar to other Pentecostal or Charismatic movements,[30] Calvary Chapel holds that the baptism of the Holy Spirit does not take place during conversion, but is available as a second experience.[31] It is their understanding that there are three distinct relationships with the Holy Spirit. The first is that which is experienced prior to conversion. In this relationship the Holy Spirit is convicting the person of his sin.[32] In the second relationship the Holy Spirit indwells believers during conversion for the purpose of sanctification.[33] The third relationship is the baptism of the Holy Spirit which Calvary Chapel believes is for the purpose of being a Christian witness.

Baptism and Communion

Calvary Chapels practice believer's baptism by immersion. Calvary Chapel does not regard baptism as necessary for salvation, but instead sees it as an outward sign of an inward change. As a result, the Chapels do not baptize infants, although they may dedicate them to God. Calvary Chapel views Communion in a symbolic way, with reference to 1 Corinthians 11:23–26.


Calvary Chapels strongly espouse pretribulationist and premillennialist views in their eschatology (the study of the end times). They believe that the rapture of the Church will occur first, followed by a literal seven-year period of Great Tribulation, followed by the second coming of Jesus Christ, and then finally a literal thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth called the Millennial Kingdom. Calvary Chapel also rejects supersessionism and instead believes that the Jews remain God's chosen people and that Israel will play an important part in the end times.[34]

Interest in one event during the Tribulation—the building of a Third Temple in Jerusalem—led in the early 1980s to associations between some in Calvary Chapel (including Chuck Smith) and Jewish groups interested in seeing the temple rebuilt.[35]

Return of Christ in 1981

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Chuck Smith wrote and published a prophetic timeline that declared:

I believe that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981.[36][37]

The reasoning had to do with the idea that the seven-year Tribulation would end in 1988, forty years after the establishment of the state of Israel. In his 1978 book, Smith reasoned that Halley's Comet in 1986 would result in problems for those left behind: "The Lord said that towards the end of the Tribulation period the sun would scorch men who dwell upon the face of the earth (Rev. 16). The year 1986 would fit just about right! We’re getting close to the Tribulation and the return of Christ in glory. All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together." [36]

Disappointment resulting from the prophecy not materializing in 1981 caused some to leave the church.[38][39][40][41]

"Generation" living in 1948

In another book titled Snatched Away, Smith proclaimed that the "generation that was living in May of 1948 shall not pass until the second coming of Jesus Christ takes place and the kingdom of God be established upon the earth".[40][42][43]


Calvary Chapel pastors tend to prefer expositional sermons rather than topical ones, and they will often give their sermons sequentially from the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. They believe that expository preaching allows the congregation to learn how all parts of the Bible address issues as opposed to topical sermons which they see as allowing preachers to emphasize certain issues more than others.[44] Another advantage, they say, is that it makes difficult topics easier to address because members of the congregation won't feel like they are being singled out.[45] It sees expository teaching as providing consistent teaching that, over time, brings the "perfecting of the saints" which is part of their general philosophy for the Church.[46] In teaching expositorily through scripture sequentially, Calvary Chapel believes God sets the agenda, not the pastor.

Calvary Chapels believe that most churches have a "dependent, highly organized, [and] structured" environment, but that most people want an "independent and casual way of life". Calvary churches typically have a casual and laid-back atmosphere.[47] As a practical implication of this philosophy, people may wear street clothes to church.[48] Praise and worship usually consists of upbeat contemporary Christian music though many Calvarys also play hymns. The style of worship generally reflects the region and the specific make-up of the congregation.

Calvary Chapel does not have a formalized system of church membership. Calling a Calvary Chapel one's church usually means regularly attending church services and becoming involved in fellowship with other "members" of the church.


The form of church government practiced by Calvary Chapel does not conform to any of the three historical forms. They do not employ congregational polity, believing that God's people collectively made poor decisions in the Old Testament, citing Exodus 16:2 as an example.[49] They also criticize presbyterian polity because when "the pastor is hired by the board and can be fired by the board," they fear that "the pastor becomes a hireling".[49] Although Calvary Chapel's governance shares a similarity with episcopal polity in that the congregation has no direct authority over the pastor, it does not have the formal hierarchy characteristic of episcopal polity.

The majority of Calvary Chapels have adopted models of government based on their understanding of the theocracy that God established in the Old Testament they sometimes call the "Moses model". In this system, God was head of his people and under God's authority was Moses, who led the Israelites as God directed him. Moses also had a priesthood and seventy elders providing him support. Calvary Chapel has adapted this order believing their pastors have a role like Moses and their boards of elders function in supporting roles.[48][49]

Calvary Chapels are independent and self-governing churches. They do not have church membership apart from pastors recognized through their affiliate program. The Calvary Chapel Association has the responsibility of affiliating churches with Calvary Chapel. A church that affiliates with Calvary Chapel often (but not always) uses the name "Calvary Chapel". Three requirements for becoming affiliated exist:

  1. the pastor must "embrace the characteristics of the Calvary Chapel movement as described in Calvary Chapel Distinctives"
  2. the church must have the characteristics of a church (as opposed to a less-developed home fellowship)
  3. an applicant must express willingness to spend the time to fellowship with other Calvary Chapels[50]

The requirements do not include a seminary degree. In accordance with Calvary's interpretation and understanding of the Bible (see 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 3:12), Calvary Chapel does not ordain women or homosexuals as pastors.

Regional lead pastors exercise a measure of accountability.[51] Since no legal or financial ties link the different Calvary Chapels, only disaffiliation can serve as a disciplinary procedure.


Various criticisms of the organization and of the pastorate role in the organization exist. For example, journalist David Templeton described intense peer pressure during his time as an active participant in Calvary Chapel ministry.[52] Chuck Smith has been criticized for drawing connections between disasters (e.g., earthquakes, the September 11 attacks) and divine wrath against homosexuality and abortion.[41][53]

Calvary Chapel leaders, including Smith, were the subject of a lawsuit alleging that they knew or should have known that a minister named Anthony Iglesias was prone to sexual abuse when they moved him from ministry positions in Diamond Bar, California, to Thailand, to Post Falls, Idaho.[54][55] Iglesias was convicted of lewd conduct with two 14-year-old boys in California in 2004, and the lawsuit stemmed from events in Idaho, but all alleged abuse occurred in or before 2003.[54]

The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice as of September 18, 2012.[56]

Accountability of the pastorate system

As a result of what he saw as micromanaging church elders and board members, Chuck Smith used "an independent board of elders" when he took the senior pastor role at Calvary Chapel. Smith subsequently wrote that "senior pastors should be answerable to God, not to a denominational hierarchy or board of elders". Christianity Today says that Smith's "Moses Model", in which senior pastors do not permit their authority to be challenged, can lead to churches that are often resistant to accountability. In response, Smith says he is following the authority structure that God used when Israel was under the rule of Moses.[57]

According to one article, "Smith's book Calvary Chapel Distinctives teaches that senior pastors should be answerable to God, not to a denominational hierarchy or board of elders." Critics say this 'Moses model' produces pastors who do not permit their authority be challenged. Calvary Chapel suggests that some churches are led astray by the management of their boards and that a biblical board of elders should aid the ministry and give wise counsel, not control the affairs of the church.


Bible college

Calvary Chapel Bible College (CCBC) is located in Murrieta, California. The school also has at least 50 affiliated campuses throughout the world.[58] Founded in 1975, it originally offered a "short, intensive study program",[59] but it subsequently became a two-year school which awards Certificates of Completion, Associate in Theology degrees (for high-school graduates), and Bachelor of Biblical Studies degrees (to students who have an Associate of Arts from an approved college).[60][61] The college as a whole does not have accreditation, but students can transfer CCBC credits to some major accredited colleges such as Azusa Pacific. The college does not seek accreditation,[62] stating that this allows Calvary Chapel to keep the cost of tuition lower and offer courses taught by pastors who do not have master's degrees.[63]

Harvest Crusades

Harvest Crusades operate as a ministry of Harvest Christian Fellowship (a Calvary Chapel in Riverside, California). They carry out an evangelistic ministry similar to Billy Graham's. They meet in stadiums and have Christian music bands play followed by an evangelical message normally given by Greg Laurie. They estimate three million people have attended since its inception in 1990.[64]


Several radio stations are operated by Calvary Chapel churches. These include:

In addition, the CSN International (originally known as the "Calvary Satellite Network") and Effect Radio networks were founded by a Calvary Chapel in Twin Falls, Idaho; though CSN still carries a significant number of programs from several Calvary Chapels, the networks and the church (now known by the name "The River Christian Fellowship") have all apparently severed their official ties with the Calvary Chapel.

Notable people



External links

  • Calvary Chapel – Official Site
  • Calvary Chapel Bible College
  • Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa Schools
  • Calvary Chapel Magazine
  • Calvary Chapel School of Ministry
  • Calvary Chapel School of Worship
  • Maranatha! Music
  • Ocean's Edge School of Worship
  • The Word for Today – Official Site
  • Calvary Chapel Worship Songs
  • Calvary Chapel Distinctives


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  13. ^ Smith, Chuck & Tal Brooke (2003) Harvest. pp. 23–24. ISBN 0-936728-42-6, The Word For the Today Publishers,
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  39. ^ Abanes, Richard. End-Time Visions : The Road to Armageddon. pp. 326, 412–413.
  40. ^ a b DiSabatino, David. The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource. Bibliographies and Indexes in Religious Studies. p.68
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  54. ^ a b Graman, Kevin 2011. Churches protected predator, suit says, The Spokesman-Review. Published April 16, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
  55. ^ Arellano, Gustavo 2011. Lawsuit claims Calvary Chapel allowed shuffling of pedophile employee from Diamond Bar to Idaho, OC Weekly. Published August 23, 2011.. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
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