Crisis in the Calvary Chapel Movement

 Calling Calvary Chapel Back to Bible and the Original Vision of Chuck Smith

By Lee Edward Enochs

While I mainly focus on conservative politics these days, it may come to a surprise to many of my readers that I used to be involved in a hippie church movement in Southern California.

Before I took a turn towards academics, for many years of my life I was part of the Calvary Chapel Movement, an association of Evangelical Christian churches founded by the late pastor and Bible teacher Chuck Smith (1927-2013), a dynamic spiritual leader who first started ministering to hippies and other disenfranchised young people at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in the mid 1960’s.

Eventually, Chuck Smith would be a major leader within the “Jesus People” spiritual awakening that took place across America during the turbulent the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Smith became internationally famous when he appeared on the front cover of “Life” Magazine and was featured in TIME Magazine during the early 1970’s.

Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa eventually exploded in popularity and reached over 30,000 people a week during it’s zenith. There are now more than 1,500 Calvary Chapel affiliate churches nationwide and hundreds more overseas. Some of the Evangelicalism’s largest churches are affiliated with the Calvary Chapel movement that was initially founded by Pastor Chuck of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.

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Chuck Smith

I first met Pastor Chuck in the 1980’s when I was a young beach bum living in Orange County, California. In those days, I used to attend Bible studies at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa several times a week and was deeply blessed by Pastor Chuck’s faithfulness to the Scripture.

I believe one of the key factors to the phenomenal growth of the Calvary Chapel Movement is it’s emphasis on verse by verse expository teaching,a  form of Bible teaching and preaching that details the meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture. It explains what the Bible means by what it says. Exegesis is technical and grammatical exposition, a careful drawing out of the exact meaning of a passage in its original context.

Until recently, almost all of the various individual congregations that make up the Calvary Chapel Movement were conservative and Evangelical in theology and placed a tremendous emphasis on the inspiration and authority of Scripture and the Return of Christ.

Yet,  I would like to argue that after spending thirty years in the Calvary Chapel Movement, there are some fundamental issues that threaten to erode the Calvary Chapel’s Evangelical witness.

The inroads of postmodernism and propositional relativism are unfortunately making their way in the Calvary Chapel Movement. In many Calvary Chapel congregations issues such as female Bible teachers and the validity of Biblical exposition are openly being debated and challenged and the time has come for Calvary Chapel as a nationwide and worldwide Evangelical movement, to return to its conservative and Biblical roots.

Remember that Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15-17;

“And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

I have personally observed many younger Calvary Chapel pastors who do not seem overly concerned with Biblical preaching in their ministries. I would like to argue that the Bible alone should be the foundation for all ministry in the Calvary Chapel Movement

While I do not want to take sides on the present controversy  the Calvary Chapel Association and the founding of a new association called, the Calvary Chapel Global Network,  I do believe the Calvary Chapel Movement cannot afford to be splintered and divided into rival factions at this time. It’s time for everyone in the Calvary Chapel movement to return back back to Biblical exposition and doctrine.

It’s time to get back to the Bible and the “Old Time Religion.” If it was enough for Chuck Smith, it is good enough for me.


Lee Edward Enochs (B.A., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary. Lee also studied at the Moody Bible Institute and is the author of two books, “A Biblical Defense of Capitalism” and, “The Case for Rand Paul.”  Before studying in Princeton, Lee lived in Southern California for over twenty years where he sat under the preaching ministry of the late Pastor Chuck Smith.

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