Sunday, September 05, 2010

Calvary Chapel ®: Church or Cult?

There has been a lot of talk in the blog world about the "cults" of Mormonism and Catholicism. I've not weighed in on those topics as I really have nothing to add to the discussion right now, but this got me to thinking about other churches that seem cult-like as well. One is the Calvary Chapel ® churches. (Yes, the name is copyrighted.) They don't call themselves a "denomination" but rather a "movement" or a "fellowship of churches."

Founded in Costa Mesa, California in 1965 by Chuck Smith, today there are well over 1000 CC churches around the world. Most have retained the name "Calvary Chapel," but some have adopted such names as "Calvary Fellowship" and other non-denominational-sounding monikers.

On the surface, their teachings seem somewhat in line with those of Baptists and other mainstream Protestant churches, but scratch below the surface and you will find more significant differences. Actually, their What We Believe page seems rather vague, almost like a "we'll make it up as we go" philosophy. To get a better understanding of what they believe it's necessary to delve into Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel Distinctives.

Chuck Smith proved himself to be a false prophet when he predicted the world would end in 1981. This was documented in his 1978 book,
End Times: A Report on Future Survival.

One of the most frequent criticisms of CC churches is the man-centered, authoritarian structure which places the pastor as THE large-and-in-charge, don't-question-my-authority boss.

In 2007 Christianity Today published
this informative article about Calvary Chapel.

An earlier CT story chronicled the problems with an authoritarian CC pastor in New Mexico.

Nepotism is alive and well in the CC system, too. Chuck Smith, Jr. has had his own issues.

Los Angeles Times >> Father, Son and Holy Rift

There are tales of abuse, both physical and sexual, allegedly being covered up by the leaders of CC. Here is the story of two brothers' accusations of cover-up of physical abuse:

OC Weekly >> Is Calvary Chapel Head Chuck Smith Covering for a Child Beater?

The allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups are numerous. For those readers who are interested, just Google the subject. Someone could start a new blog just to cover the stories coming out of this one denomination... uh... movement. People have asked Christa Brown of Stop Baptist Predators why she concentrates primarily on Southern Baptist offenders. The fact is, just keeping track of those in the SBC is a full-time job (which the SBC still refuses to do).

There are numerous discussion boards where people have told their stories of "escape" from what many describe as a cult or at least a cultish organization. Here are but a few: Discussion of the Christianity Today article.

Whore Church >> Calvary Chapel: How Long Before It's a Cult?

Destructive Churches >> Calvary Chapel Cult??

Other Calvary Chapel "Cult" Links

On a personal note, I've personally known only a handful of people who were CC members. While some may have been a bit eccentric to begin with, most of the "nuttiness" stemmed from their association with CC. When they weren't talking about their church you wouldn't know they were different from anyone else, but they made it crystal clear that if you weren't part of "the" church (CC) you were somehow beneath them. Reading some of the comments on the above links about CC members being "cliquish" and thinking CC is the only "real" church certainly described my admittedly limited experiences with them.

Here is one more (long) article written by a now-reformed former CC member. I don't agree with all points of reformed theology, but I found it very informative.

Other than a few theological differences, I see little difference between CC churches and the SBC. In both, individual churches are considered autonomous. Baptism is by immersion. Nepotism lives. Abuse is covered up. And many of the pastors are authoritarian.