It is with some trepidation that I wade into this issue, but recent events, both at a local church, and in Alex Grenier’s ongoing relationship with Calvary Chapel, have me thinking about this stuff at some length. I hope kind readers will bear with me; as always I’m not especially interested in whether one particular man or another should be a pastor, but rather I’m looking for guidelines when trying to pick a church that is a safe place for myself and my family.
As everyone knows, Paul the Apostle sent his traveling companions Timothy and Titus a couple of different places and then wrote to them giving instructions on the handling of elders and deacons in the local churches in the cities he sent them to. Those of us with a high view of Scripture typically derive our views on the qualifications of pastors, elders, and deacons from these instructions, and we typically dress up our views by calling them “biblical eldership” or some such.
When writing to Timothy Paul sets a very high standard for elders, including spiritual maturity, absence of various vices, managing his household, etc. In a later section Paul also gives Timothy instructions regarding money given to elders, and warns against being quick to judge elders. What Paul doesn’t do is outline the process or criteria for disqualifying an elder.
Some readers draw a bright line, saying that any elder who isn’t fully qualified is disqualified. See e.g. this article by Orthodox Presbyterian writer Archibald Alexander Allison [link]:
It is the church’s God-given duty to keep all unworthy men out of the office of ruling and teaching elder. Should a man already in office show himself unqualified for the office he holds, the church must be diligent to remove him from that office. In so doing the church will uphold the honor of Christ and insure that the church is edified unto greater peace, purity, and unity.
Not everyone draws the same conclusions. I was surprised, for example, to find in Jay Bakker’s book Son of a Preacher Man his claim that since God had called his father (televangelist and Assemblies of God preacher Jim Bakker) nobody was qualified to tell him he couldn’t return to the pulpit after he did his prison time.
I have on occasion seen a deacon board confront and fire a preacher because his wife left him and wouldn’t return. I’ve also seen Paul’s later instructions “do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” used as a way to discredit mounting accusations against a pastor because none of the anecdotes had two or three independent witnesses.
If I had to stake a out a position here, I would be inclined to say that since the Scripture doesn’t say clearly how to handle the difficult problem of removing a preacher (yes, note the equivocation between the ancient “elder” and the modern “preacher”), then
- There’s a great deal of liberty to be had here
- It’s important to find out what position the church you’re attending takes, and what process they have in place for guaranteeing they will behave consistently with that position
- These verses serve as a prism of sorts, and the standard we use to interpret them often says more about the reader than about the text
That being said let me turn to the case of Bob Grenier, pastor of Calvary Chapel Visalia [link]. His son Alex has accused him of physically abusing Alex and at least some of his brothers, including punching them in their heads, etc. These accusations are central to understanding Alex’s blog Calvary Chapel Abuse [link]. After having read a fair amount of Alex’s blog over the years, I have to say I find Alex’s accusations credible. I don’t think he’s lying; I don’t think he’s mistaken; I don’t think he’s exaggerating. Having decided that Alex is credible I have to choose one of two positions:
- It’s okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years. Or
- It’s not okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years.
Because honestly if there’s nothing wrong with hitting children then there are no more questions here about whether Bob Grenier is fit to be in the pulpit.
This is not a subject the Scriptures treat in great detail either; the proverbs about “sparing the rod” notwithstanding. There’s more going on in the Grenier situation than simple disagreements over disciplining children, anyway.
But on balance I would have to say no; it’s not okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years.
I have focused on this particular accusation for a reason: Paul the Apostle singles out physical violence as being off-limits for an elder. This gets rendered “not violent” in the ESV and “no striker” in the KJV; I do occasionally see people attempt to interpret this prohibition as being a description of temperament (as if “not violent but gentle” were just a poetic way to say “really gentle”) but I can’t find a good reason not to take it literally: a violent man shouldn’t be installed as an elder.
Also, and this is more of a personal opinion, I have to suggest that if a man has two or more adult children making serious public accusations against him, he isn’t “managing his household well” (ESV) or “ruling well his own house” (KJV).
I have to argue that if I were responsible for ordaining Bob Grenier, and I knew these things about him, I would be failing my responsibilities if I ordained him.
Now if I read the tea leaves here (starting at say [link]) it looks to me like Chuck Smith has decided that he isn’t going to do anything about Bob Grenier and nothing is going to change his mind. And there isn’t, apparently, anything in the Calvary Chapel way of doing church that can or will do anything about Bob Grenier.
I don’t know what it means about Calvary Chapel that Bob Grenier is still in the pulpit, but I would encourage thoughtful readers to find out more before committing any time, money or energy to a Calvary Chapel. It says a lot; I’m just not sure what.
Of course like a lot of things about Calvary Chapel this will probably get revisited when Chuck dies and the new regime, whoever they are, take control. I for one hope they will clarify this aspect of church leadership for the benefit of those of us who love Calvary and wish them well.
Before I delve into what follows let me say up front I have a lot of sympathy for the Calvary Chapel movement, and I’m grateful for the time I had in my local Calvary, etc. It was a great place to hear Bible teaching and a pretty good place to serve. Part of the Calvary experience included listening to KNKT-FM in Albuquerque, and even ten years ago I found the selection of teachers on KNKT peculiar. Most of it made sense: it mostly reinforced the Chuck Smith-Skip Heitzig-California-Sixties lineage of Calvary Albuquerque, there was a little bit from the other Calvaries in New Mexico, and a little bit that might appeal to Hispanics. There were also some odd choices: a man who never stopped talking about money (Hank Hanegraaff), an angry shouting Calvinist (John MacArthur), a Calvary guy who didn’t fit the lineage (Bil Gallatin) and a clinical psychologist who occasionally answered questions that in person Calvary pastors tend to reserve for themselves (James Dobson).
When I traveled to places where Calvary was relatively new I tended to find an unhosted Calvary Satellite Network feed [link], which featured no local voices and was then more of a pure Calvary platform: Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, and a host of Calvary stars. My analysis then was that the network was a low-budget affair, and Calvary was doing what was necessary to keep the money in-house.
So last week when I was in Maui I was surprised to find in the middle of the AM dial a Calvary station of sorts, KLHT 1040AM [link]. It turns out to be owned by Calvary Chapel of Honolulu, and like KNKT it is a non-profit radio station that plays commercials. I’m not sure how all this works from a tax accounting perspective, but that’s another question for another day.
Their programming is similar to what you’ll hear on KNKT [link], but different: instead of regional New Mexico voices, there are voices local to Hawaii, including someone named Waxer Tipton [link], who is local but not so far as I can tell affiliated with Calvary at all. There are also more Californians, including Bill Stonebraker and Steve Mays, neither of whom I’d ever heard before.
It was a little jarring to hear Calvary pastors over the Independence Day weekend in a place that’s not so Anglo and where only three precincts (out of 538) voted Republican in the 2008 Presidential election [link]. Note to Steve Mays: yes, America needs to repent; no, it was never righteous.
It’s also kind of sad to hear how prevalent the guys we used to call the “Chuck-alikes” have become. We all love Chuck Smith and are grateful for him and for the Calvary movement, but we understand that while teaching through every verse in the Bible is something of a Calvary goal if not a distinctive, Chuck’s teaching on some verses is shallow to nonexistent. And there are guys in the Calvary Chapel movement who, if you’ve heard Chuck’s take on a passage in e.g. the C-3000 series [link] you know what they’re going to say about the passage. You’re just left to wonder what filler story they’re going to use as an illustration. And sadly it seems like the bulk of the newer California/Hawaii guys are more or less in this mold. These twin trends (a tendency to skirt difficult passages; a tendency to serve up warmed over Chuck Smith material) don’t bode well for the Calvary movement long term.
All that being said, it was great to hear Calvary voices generally, and I was glad to be within range of KLHT on the south side of Maui. It was like seeing an old girlfriend in passing, and being glad she’s aging well, or something like that.
In a later post I’d like to take up the general question of Calvinism on Calvary stations, and the unpleasant topic of Alistair Begg in particular. Stay tuned.
So nearly a month ago Elizabeth Esther posted an article at her blog about why she (and her husband and their five children) left Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (CCCM) [link]; I picked it up at Alex Grenier’s blog, where there’s a separate, equally lively discussion in the comments [link]. Here are the main points:
- Calvary Chapel is Chuck Smith’s church association; CCCM is his church
- Children were not welcome in the sanctuary; the author understands this to mean that children made noise, and this interfered with the live taping of Chuck Smith’s sermons
- Chuck takes swipes at other Christian groups (some denominations, some not). The author calls this elitist; I’d be inclined to call it adversarial
- CCCM took shape in the 1960s and 1970s and considers that its golden age
- CCCM is preoccupied with Dispensationalist eschatology
At a glance these all look like elements of “first generation syndrome:” a great thing happened once upon a time, but now it’s a generation later and yesterday’s radicals have become today’s conservatives. This is a recurring problem, and I’m not sure it has a simple, workable answer. The primitive Baptist groups in my background have a tendency to want to return to the Early Church but have no plan for getting there; Lutherans refer to “historical Christianity” with the unspoken modifiers “circa 1517″ and “in Germany;” I’ve even heard Mormons wax nostalgic for Nauvoo.
Even points 3 and 5 above sound like aspects of this problem: #3 because while in the Sixties and Seventies Calvary Chapel primarily grew by converting non-Christians, the ones I’ve personally seen were full of people like me (and like Elizabeth Esther) retreads from more conservative/fundamentalist/authoritarian/charismatic/whatever groups. And of course #5 is a way of avoiding the biggest problem CCCM is facing: someday Chuck Smith is going to die and all hell is going to break loose there and across the Calvary Chapel movement as some number of outstanding issues have to be dealt with. I really do wish the folks at Calvary Chapel well in sorting all this out; it’s very difficult to make the transition from the founding leader to his successor(s), and not many groups get there without some bloodletting.
All this being said, it’s a rare organization that can and does take precautions against getting set in its ways, enshrining personal habits as distinctives, etc. I’m not sure I could name even one.
Back on December 5 I visited Mars Hill Albuquerque [link] with my wife and baby; we needed to be in town for a Christmas social function and my wife was indulgent enough to let me visit the Lobo Theater in Nob Hill for church followed by lunch at a surprisingly good Vietnamese place before we went off to meet our social obligations.
The audio from the sermon we heard is available [link]. Please don’t just take my word for what was said and how it was said; give the sermon a listen yourself and make up your own mind.
Today’s post is mostly background, about why you or I should care about Mars Hill Albuquerque. Or rather, why you should care about a church from Seattle having a campus/church plant in Albuquerque. And to a first approximation that comes down to two words: Mark Driscoll.
I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t understand what’s so special about the Mars Hill phenomenon; I don’t understand why anybody is paying any special attention to Mark Driscoll. My best analysis as of two months ago was that the Mars Hill equation might go like this:
Mars Hill = Calvary Chapel – The Sixties + The Nineties + Reformed Theology
I might even be tempted to add in something about the personalities of Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel) and Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill) because while Calvary Chapel was initially the home of an existing movement of sorts (The Jesus People), as far as I can tell nothing similar has happened in Seattle. And of course because so much of the conversation about Mars Hill in the last five or so years kind of starts and ends with Driscoll.
And beyond that there’s not much: I would have said essentially that Mars Hill is the beginning of another non-denomination like Calvary Chapel, using a lot of the usual church growth/megachurch approach to starting and building churches (a pastor with a strong personality; strong brand; de-emphasis of traditional denominational distinctives; personalities and language familiar to anyone with a background in business/marketing; etc.) but with a Reformed twist. Because to be fair when I’ve seen the obvious question asked: “what’s the difference between e.g. a Purpose-Driven Church and an A29 Church?” the answer I’ve seen is, essentially “because we’ve got Reformed Theology and they’re something else/less/deviant/apostate/etc.”
On further reflection the truth as best I’ve been able to discern it is a bit more complicated. And we’ll pick that up in the next post.