I have been dwelling on the blessing it is to be part of my church Calvary Chapel York and a teacher at our Bible College. In light of our annual UK Pastors & Leaders Conference (beginning today), I thought I’d share a few reasons why my wife and I love the Calvary Chapel movement. These are particularly true in our church in York.
- Centrality of Christ. Christ should be the focal point of everything we do. The church is not a social club, but sinners rescued and redeemed by Jesus. I love the focus on Christ in Calvary Chapel churches.
- Love for God’s Word. I admit, when I was young I naively thought that Calvary Chapel was the only Bible-teaching church. I’ve since discovered that is far from true, tragically however the teaching of the Word is certainly neglected today by many churches. This is particularly the case here in the UK. Go to a Calvary Chapel and I can guarantee 9 times out of 10 they will be teaching through a book of the Bible, week by week. You will also find this focus at our Bible Colleges, but maybe I’ll post on that another time.
- Spirit-led. There is also a strong emphasis on following the lead of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes Christians are scared of the Holy Spirit because of abuses and odd behavior they have seen, and as a result are skeptical to the Holy Spirit’s leading. In my experience Calvary Chapel walks a fine line and sees that the Spirit is alive and well today, but His work will be in accordance with His inspired Word. I have always been encouraged to step out in faith when I sense the Spirit’s leading, but never to seek experiences at the detriment of God’s Word, and all experiences are discerned by the Bible.
- Diverse. I have been involved with Calvary Chapels in Australia, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, the USA, and the UK. What strikes me about all of these churches is the diversity and unity. When I first went to Calvary Budapest and the Hungary Bible College (CCBCE), I met brothers and sisters from many different countries, but we all felt united in Christ. The unique features of Calvary Chapel have also been present in every church that I’ve attended, without losing their individual flavour or cultural voice.
- Missions focused. For a movement that is not known for being particularly organized or structured, the Lord has raised up many missionaries and church planters in Calvary Chapel. All this without any 5 year plans or the like. Our church in York has raised up many teachers and sent them out to the UK and worldwide.
- A desire for unity. The best Calvarys don’t seek to divide unnecessarily. This is something Chuck Smith himself emphasises in the Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Calvary does stand for theological purity and is strongly evangelical. However, there tends to be an openness to receive from our brothers and sisters of other denominations and theological persuasions. This isn’t without its problems of course. Sometimes this desire to be open has backfired, and sometimes I think this has led to anti-intellectualism or a wariness of those who talk a lot about theology and doctrine. I think those are areas we could grow in, but on the whole, I have seen many Calvarys put the secondary issues in perspective and work with others for the sake of the Gospel.
- Doxology and pastoral focus. Calvary has a particular focus on building up believers. As I mentioned before, Calvary Chapels aren’t known for being particularly organized. The good aspect towards that is people tend not to be treated as assets, assigned ‘jobs’ in church, etc. Instead, people are shepherded to a deeper relationship with the Lord. Pragmatism is dangerous in churches today, when sermons can become focused on us (“how to be a better ____”) instead of focusing on our Saviour. Calvary Chapels tend to be pragmatic in the best sense of the word, constantly asking the question, “how can we best build each other up”?
- Freedom. This fits with the above. There is a feeling of freedom in Calvary that I’ve not felt elsewhere. People are encouraged to pursue their spiritual gifts. People aren’t rebuked for playing a certain style of worship or receiving from other movements. Someone won’t generally be rebuked for explaining why, say, John Piper is their favourite pastor. Though there is still a joy in what makes Calvary distinct. There is a lot of grace and freedom in Calvary Chapels, and for that Tasha and I are very grateful.
This has been my experience in most Calvary Chapels that I have contact with. I know there are unfortunate exceptions and I am aware of common weaknesses in Calvary, and common criticisms such as, “Calvary Chapel people think they are the only bastion of faithful Christianity left in the world!”
I also recognize that none of these above emphases are unique to Calvary Chapel, and I praise God for it! But these are reasons why we love being part of Calvary Chapel, particularly here at Calvary Chapel York.
If you live in York and are looking for a church, we’d love to have you!