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.


gopher said...

Meanwhile back at Bellevue,

They are running a Red Chair Promotion, having people tell how great their experience has been at Bellevue

"We want to hear your red chair story! A red chair story should contain the following information:

1. What your life was like before Christ.
2. Who invited you to church or shared Jesus with you.
3. Your encounter with the Lord (salvation or re commitment experience).
4. What your life is like now with Christ."

So the 1st Red Chair Story is about a druggie, alcoholic who got a young unmarried Bellevue girl pregnant (or as he puts it, "WE" got pregnant).

Was then was openly accepted
by a young married "Life Group":

Hello, My Name is Mike Cornelus and this is my Red Chair Story

Now remember this story began 10 years ago under Dr Adrian Rogers tenure.

Now, under the leadership of Dr Steve Gaines, would this happen?
Probably not, because during his tenure a young couples "Life Group"
who was accepting people where they were (concerning drinking)
was disbanded and the teacher was told they could no longer teach.

Harper Valley PTA

"When a Christian hurts, others should rally around him to bring comfort and healing.
We should weep with those who weep, just as we rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).
What happens to one believer affects us all." Steve Gaines


Trevor said...

I recently left a Calvary Chapel because of the authoritarian culture. I felt like it was not okay to disagree with a small group leader. He was not a pastor. He used sexual language and got people involved in an activity that put guys and girls way too close together and said it was about trusting the Lord. It creeped me out bigtime. I'm glad I left. I know what's normal in a church. I feel sorry for those who only know Calvary Chapel churches, They don't know what healthy Christianity is.

Junkster said...

Thanks, NASS, for this well-researched and well-written article. I knew some of this, but a lot of it I didn't. It helps explain why a co-worker who is a member of a Calvary Chapel always seemed hesitant to discuss matters of the faith with me. She always acted like she was uncertain of the Christianity of anyone not from her church.

There are two main aspects of what we call a cult: the theological and the sociological. They are often connected, as what we believe so greatly influences how we behave.

Some groups are considered cults primarily because of their faulty theology -- usually something to do with the Triune nature of God or the divine/human nature of Christ. These aberrant doctrinal views are often coupled with the sociological aspects of exercising extreme control over the lives of the members.

Some groups do not have the classic theological hallmarks of a cult, in that their official doctrinal statements are considered orthodox by most evangelical standards, but they still exhibit the sociologically cultish behaviors of control and manipulation. It sounds like Calvary Chapel (in general; I'm sure there are exceptions from the norm, as with any denomination) is cultish more sociologically than theologically. This seems to be the case with more and more evangelical groups lately, including many Southern Baptist churches.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Commercial Appeal >> Bellevue volunteers lend a helping hand

Let's get one thing out of the way first. A church helping out in the community is a good thing! There are many people, especially with the economy as it is today, who genuinely need help. Many are too proud, humble, ashamed, or unable to ask for it. And there are always going to be people who don't necessarily need help who are going to have their hands stuck out.

But a church constantly bragging about helping out in the community is not becoming. From the billboards to the Bellevue Lo♥es Memphis line of clothing to the press releases (see above), it's bragging and calling attention to themselves.

Notice the one photo. Out of "almost 1000 volunteers" who do they choose for the single photo op? Why, a Gaines family member, of course! Speaking of which, has anyone seen the array of "missions" posters in the west hallway where the historical timeline used to be? A more appropriate title would have been "The Gaines Family Sees the World."

I still don't understand how or why the church is fixing up public schools and fire stations. What are Memphis property taxes, the highest in the state, going for? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Helping individuals who truly need the help is a good thing. Not so sure about distributing backpacks full of school supplies in Frayser to anyone who shows up. I'm sure some truly needed the help. From what I've seen at other giveaway programs around here, it would have been interesting to see how many of the mothers waiting in line had iPhones (or similar) glued to their ears.

WishIhadknown said...

The information on the “What We Believe” page seems ok. It’s what’s missing that is peculiar. No mention of redemption by the blood of Jesus dying on the cross. No mention of personal profession or confession and repentance of sins.

TN Lizzie said...

(Sept. 21) -- A New York Web designer obsessed with finding the person who molested him 40 years ago finally tracked down and confronted his alleged attacker. Then the man admitted to the sexual assaults in a covert videotape that is now on YouTube.

Read the story HERE.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Hello, sheeps. Sorry for the dearth of new posts. Life has a way of taking up time. Hopefully it won't be much longer before I get something new up. It's not for a lack of material.

In the meantime if anyone would like to do a guest post or has any ideas for new posts, please let me know.

Today is the NBBCOF's 4th birthday. Thank you for reading and contributing.

The only BBC "news" I've noticed is they've replaced all the signage around the "campus." And Mrs. Rogers' reserved parking space sign is gone. Since she left three years ago I suppose it's about time.

Anonymous said...

I was in the Calvary Chapel "system" for 15 years ( in Northern California) and YES it IS very cultish, I would not recommend it to anyone !

New BBC Open Forum said...

Leaving Calvary Chapel and the Moses Model

Provender said...

Good article. Calvary Chapel and its Moses Model authority structure do veer into cult-like tendencies. It is hard to question or critique leadership -- impossible in some cases. When I was part of CC, I was, like many CC believers, extremely elitist. WE were one of the few churches really sold out to Jesus. WE were one of the few churches who "preached the whole counsel of God" because we went verse by verse through the Bible while other, inferior churches would only pick and choose verses they liked. WE treasured the Word and other churches didn't. Elitism supreme. Few CC pastors I know will meet with pastors in their community that are not CC pastors. They are spiritually above them and consider them lukewarm. I'm sure there are exceptions. Calvary Chapel leaders are accountable to no one or they set up boards of yes men and enjoy their fiefdoms with little opposition. Often they will give the message that if you oppose them you are opposing God. They may not say it directly, but they will certainly imply it. I have witnessed all the hallmarks of spiritual abuse in our CC: elitism, black and white thinking, characterizing opposition as persecution or Satan's work, authoritarianism, manipulative preaching. It is extremely rare for Costa Mesa or even regional directors to confront wayward pastors. It seems like it has to be something illegal or extremely embarrassing to the organization for leadership to intervene on behalf of abused congregations. As a result, little tyrants flourish in individual fellowships, unchecked. Thanks again for the article.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Thanks. That sounds a lot like Baptists.

Serena said...

I attended CC for 15 years. I got tired of their lack of reverence, manipulation, intolerance for any views on scripture than theirs, elitism and the feeling that they are God's cutting edge church on earth. My irritation led me to study world history and I left CC for Eastern Orthodoxy. CC pastors go to CC bible school which consists of listening to tapes by their pope, Chuck Smith. In other words, they are poorly educated bordering on ignorant. But they are ignorance on fire as are their members. They are not considered a classic cult. But it feels like one, especially when you've been out for a while.

Anne said...

I pop in now and then to my local Calvary's services and now and then I attend a woman's Bible study.
Although the Bible teaching is fantastic, I stopped going regularly because of the arrogance of the ushers who were more like bouncers and because of the pretentiousness of the leadership. Too many young moms converged upon were rudely told to put their kids in children's groups even if it was the first time in church and the kids were frightened.
One older woman who volunteered as an usher was yelled at by the head usher because she walked out of the sanctuary with the collection bucket. The woman happened to be a novelist and was never intructed as to who would take the collection basket from her so she went looking for someone.
Name dropping was rampant and self aggrandizing was common among the leadership.
After 9/11, an assistant pastor claimed that Calvary Chapel had "sources" about further terrorist attacks, as if Calvary had inside national intelligence. The pastor once claimed that the "Pentagon" called to say that Calvary was doing a great job. Perhaps a Pentagon employee make that statment but it is unlikely that an official statement from the Pentagon was released to that church.
After 9/11 no packpacks were permitted in the sanctuary as if that church was on radar as a important terrorist target.
It is no wonder that Calvary pastors are not selected from Bible college but attend Calvary's (to my knowledge) unaccedited school.
Interestingly, people with great talents to offer Calvary are not selected to minister in the church because they are not friends/relatives of the leadership. However, many of the Calvary system's pastor's kids go to Calvary's Bible "college" and have jobs waiting for them in the church when they return home.

Anonymous said...

I would say so much, but I am almost afraid of God's retribution. These are mostly well-meaning people with SERIOUS, SERIOUS cultish tendencies. PLEASE stay away from them. I am warning you because I care. The more they stay in their circle, the more all of them become like zombies. Seriously, please, please, for the love of God and Jesus, just heed my warning. Thank you Jesus that none of the men in that church liked me. If you like being brainwashed by men and told in many, many manipulative ways that only people from Calvary Chapels are Christians, have at her (her, by the way, in NOT at all equal to him, and you better swallow that line the first day there). Enjoy wasting your youth and beauty on people that will only try to wreck your joy unless you marry into them or spend all your time sucking up to everyone there. They are mean, mean spirited, and gossip constantly about you, then blame you for being a gossip. They will always thrive off of making sure that you are thoroughly threatened by the "bad things that will happen to you" if you don't attend a Calvary church. Long and short, they are crazy and never listen to women, EVER. The ladies' Bible studies are even crazier. A bunch of sadists beating each other down and lording their "pearls of wisdom" over one another, that are not as close to the Bible as they claim to be. If you ever have an issue with them, don't expect an apology. Just make very sure you don't share your personal details with them; they may just make sure to use you as a sermon example and place subtle digs about you to ensure that they think you'll never know. You'll know. Cliquish does not describe it; this is a straight up CULT. These pastors all need to go to seminary and talk to other pastors- but what would be the fun in that?? It's too fun to insult the members of the congregation they don't like from their high, high pulpit and also all the other churches' faulty doctrines. Told you they were great!

PastorDavidII said...

I have a funny but tragic story for you members of CC or newby's testing the waters.

I have no idea why this crazy guy has gone undetected for years...and no one (official) at CC will restrain this guy or send him to a mental hospital.

This guy is in the Downey Church---
and by the way I acutally have symphathy and empathy for all the stories posted.

But before I tell you the Story I finally figured it out on how I will not let the behaviour of these squirrels upset me any more after many years of heart break and disgust. Thank God I never lost my FAITH! the answer is, Study the Bible yourself. And the Spirit of God will show you how to deal with these walking prophets of shame. Only Quote the Word with Love. And they will flee.

I have actually directed God's Word toward the demons some of these Characters may acutually have even if this is disputed. I am a withness that it does occur.

I have said, I am talking to the demon inside this insuspecting person. Get out of him in the Name of Jesus and return where you came from and don't come back. Say it with the Authority God gives you by reading and learning HIS Word and meditating on it day and night.
These premodona characters will flee or faint. Because they do not read the Word. Sad but true. They always mis-quote Pastor Chuck.

and they cannot quote the Bible.

Now you know. Just study the Word more than they do. And maybe you will also be set free.
And maybe you will take a long walk and find another church without self-defeating characters that are out to mess up your faith and preventing you of being happy in the Lord.
Then give thanks you had the spunk to leave.

Oh yeah my funny story. There are a lot of undetected funny people in CC in L.A. that have been there for years. They have free reign of the church to do absurd things. Yet they are not ushered out and banned. These guys all wear the same CC suits. Hawaiian flowered shirts and short pants with sandals. The official uniform of conforming with CC and if you do not fit you are probably from a cult church, so they say.
That is wrong because people must be respected. That morning or evening they got up and went to church because they are looking to spend some time with God and hearing the Word and praying and seeking fellowship. But NO, they are going to be treated rudely and if they have well-behaved children they will come for them and be separated. I know kids that want to listen to the word with their parents. Not color with crayons.

that is a lot for now. More later.

Julie Anne said...

I wanted to let you know about an upcoming media blitz to draw attention to abuse at Calvary Chapel. Please read here: Tomorrow is media blitz day for exposing Calvary Chapel. Please read: #WhoWouldJesusSue

Unknown said...

The CCs described here definitely aren't the same as the one I attend.
As well as the Calvary, I also attend a Baptist and a CofE church as I am in the military so there for move around alot.
I have had no inclination of any problems. They take a biblical line and follow God's word, I most definitely do not think that's wrong, in fact God gave us His entire word to follow, not to pick and choose which bits fit into a fallen world and adapt God's word so we can be part of the world.
I have recently left due to the fact I now live 2 hours away. I had no pressure applied to stop there and am now a member of a Baptist church. Both Churches follow the word of the Lord as He wrote it for us, both a Christian, both are filled with the Spirit, neither is a cult.
I understand that some places may indeed have a bad pastor, I've known a couple of terrible vicars in my time but does that mean the entire of the Church of England is bad, no. Does the fact I know of a Methodist minister who preaches Jesus ISNT the way mean Methodism is bad, no.
All I can do is speak from personal experience. What I've found at CC is a group of bible believing Christians who take Gods word for what it is, the truth, a group who love Jesus and the new life He has gave them.
This is what id expect to see at every Christian Church.

Anonymous said...

My son and daughter in law went to CC for counseling yes my son had a drug problem.And he agreed to go to cc in house help. no help there they hurt him more than helped.I am proud to say he left that place CC and with our help and him reading his bible he is drug free but the cc says his not godly enough to lead his family a bit of history my daughter inlaw became pregnant at 17 my son was 15 he did the right thing and married her now my wonderful granddaughter is almost 13 but CC has told her to leave him???????? what church would do that so they are going to loss their home and a marriage of almost 12 years.My daughter is a preacher and she is blown away that a preacher would tell a spouse to leave there marriage is that what god would do ???????I think not .I am so up set what people will do in gods name.This cc is in chattannooga Tennessee. Something needs to be done.We need to shout this from the roof tops. Its has complety ruined his life but I am so proud of my son he is standing strong with god. and is still drug free.

The Contented Bumblebee said...

I think its a cult the leader is very authoritarian with no room for variation in belief they all have to believe the same version of the bible as him. The members are repeatedly warned not to say anything bad about the church. The employ cult techniques to prepare the hearts and minds of the believers and there are weird spiritual effects that seems more to do with mind control than God

Unknown said...

I used to be a Christian and I used to attend Calvary Chapel church. I attended two different ones when I lived in New Mexico. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were a cult. Their flavor of Christianity is nothing remarkable for a modern mega church except for the fact that they don't (or at least didn't when I attended)take offerings. They have boxes at the end of the major isles for people to put money in if they wish.

As for a pain in the ass mega church, that I would agree with. Mega churches seem harmless on the outside but they actually have a lot more local power than any group of crazy ass people ought to. For example people in the restaurant business know not to piss off the mega churches. Those churches can shut down restaurants by bad mouthing them. That's the mild stuff. These churches can worm their way into local politics, social services, you name it.

For example, in my area their solution to the horrific problem with the suicide rate of gay teens, and a related problem with homeless teens and parents who boot out their gay children from their homes is to start a prayer chain. I would suggest they preach not to boot out their gay children but, what the hell, perhaps I'm making too much sense. Members from these churches are the ones who are involved with groups trying to deal with the problem of homeless teens. They don't take kindly to liberal notions of acceptance of homosexuality.

Anonymous said...

ALl you have to do is research, simply type Calvary Chapel cult

And all the evidence pops up.

Calvary South Austin's Pastor is a fugitive for homicide.

Fed Up said...

Imo, stay away from calvary chapel. they are way off track! Way off!I became miserable attending there!

Anonymous said...

I attended CALVARY chapel for 10 years. In the beginning there was a bright light that blinded me and intense feelings peace and love from them. I felt close to God and close to them. The abuse was very subtle and very hard to put a finger on it. Because I thought many times that there was something wrong but could not see it being in it for so long. After 10 years I came out from there to take time to see clearly. At this point I felt like their teaching brought me far away from God and not closer like it should
have. I just had very strong feelings thst I had to leave. The pastor Steve Cole had taken Gods high seat in the church making himself like God and stealing Gods glory. He was a difficult man to talk with he controlled every conversation and you could not disagree with his teaching nor his interpretation or you would feel shunned in the church. He used the word to manipulate people and to justify his actions. He had no accountability in the church and all the other leaders were yes men and obey everything he says. They say they follow Jesus but thry only use Jesus and His teaching to control everyone and to bring under their authority. There is some serious mind control going on there. You won't see it until your entangled in it. I constantly felt pressure to be like the pastors wives on the outside yo behave and act like them. Everyone acts the same there like a to not completely brain washed. Pressure to be perfect when True worship and change comes from the inside out. This is a religous cult that pressures you to change from the outside in. It phony not genuine. i prayed for wisdom and discernment about this church for a while and I was finally able to see clearly that CALVARY vhapel is a dangerous cult to get caught up in. I have been out for almost 2 years and feel better and better. I only trust the word of God from the the word and not from men's mouths. Becareful who you listen too Satan is a decieved and he is a master at imitating what God has made. There are many counterfeits out there.

Donald Smith said...

What do you do to help? Criticism is easy. I am part of Calvary Chapel in Pa. And although we are far from perfect it's a blessing to God, His saints, and the community. If you look hard enough you will find a problem with every church here on earth. Preach the gospel, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He lived a sinless life, He was nailed to the tree not for His sin but ours (mine), God rose Him from the dead and He is in Heaven and all who trust Him as their Savior will have everlasting life! May God help all the critics find grace in Christ Jesus. Peace

Anonymous said...

Have been a Christian for 45 years and have always attended and involved in ministries and mission in several churches that welcomed me with open arms, appreciating my gifts and talents. Started attending Calvary chapel and was immediately questioned as to my motives and 'pride' of using my gifts, and was told I could use them in the church only after I was carefully observed to have a "servants heart", and then I might be worthy, but maybe not. Had to prove with scripture that I was "called by God" to use my talents at this CC. Very scary, and if I was not grounded in the Word, I would have taken these charlatans seriously. Moving on to fertile ground where my gifts and talents will be appreciated and used and I can continue to grow in grace and love. Scary encounter, thank you God for opening my eyes.

Anonymous said...

I was criticized and treated poorly by Calvary Chapel in Downey Ca by the Calvary chapel preschool after I brought to the schools attention that my son was complaining of a teacher hitting him then my son was kicked out for it saying that he was a liability. I do believe Calvary Chapel is cult like and if you have any valid concerns that they don't agree with they will ask you to leave. There are good and bad everywhere you go but it's cult like for sure and the people at Calvary chapel are mean, not all of them but a lot of them are. It's sad because I am not discouraged from going back to church and I wounder if they even care but I know based on how they treated me I am not the first and won't be the last. I am relieved because I haven't sent my son back to school but one time since he was hit by the teacher but they are going to continue being nasty and not taking responsibility for what they do. I will not go back to Calvary again.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree they are poorly educated and it is very cult like and if you disagree with them they quietly kick you out, the people who run it are extremely mean and nasty and liars I was surprised I thought these were godly people and it seems the higher up the less Godly they are.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous, the last person who commented. This is EXACTLY what I have been told over the last several months when offering to serve in various ways. The most recent incident was this last weekend. I was told I was not in a position to teach anyone but that I still need to be taught. I have been a conservative Christian who has been studying the Bible for 32 years. I was told to 'begin' studying the Bible by listening to his messages on line. His response to me was basically cutting me off at the knees and shutting me down.