This past Sunday I visited City of Faith Christian Fellowship, one of Santa Fe’s newest churches. They are part of the Calvary Chapel Santa Fe family tree, one of four to six churches in the Santa Fe area that could be fairly so described. I went there this Sunday because I finally had a Sunday to myself, with the rest of the family out of town, and because a kind reader was kind enough to tell me where they are. In this post I’m going to try to describe what and who this church is/are, and in a later post I’ll talk about what I saw and heard there.
From I think the mid-Eighties until a couple of years ago there was a Calvary Chapel in Santa Fe. It was initially started as a Bible study affiliated with Calvary Albuquerque. It was initially started by Gino Geraci, now the long-time pastor of Calvary South Denver. After a short period of time, maybe a couple of years, he returned to Albuquerque and was replaced by Kon Tweeten. Tweeten was pastor for fifteen or so years; during his tenure the church grew from a handful of people to 1000-1200 people or so. He was succeeded by Dave Defuria, and under Defuria’s leadership the church split. When the split was granted affiliation with Calvary Chapel Defuria stepped down and the church was briefly reunited under Paul Scozzafava. Two of the assistant pastors, Carlos Montoya and Rudy Delgado, left on good terms and started Blaze Christian Fellowship, now part of the Acts 29 Network. One of the elders also left on good terms and started a church that I believe is based in the Sunlit Hills neighborhood. I haven’t been able to track them down. Under Paul Scozzafava the church dropped its Calvary Chapel affiliation and moved in a more Reformed direction. Scozzafava’s chronic health problems have left him unable to fulfill all the obligations of a senior pastor, and he brought in Ryan Ellsworth as heir apparent to the pulpit. Ellsworth left a few months ago and later started City of Faith.
[Edit: one of the principals was kind enough to contact me with some corrections (both for me personally and for the text I've deleted here), and I've taken the rest of this post offline until I can get my facts straight. Don't hold your breath; I may be a while.]
It’s been a busy time in the Santa Fe church scene; so far as I can tell our local Potter’s House Christian Center has disappeared altogether and Praise Tabernacle moved from Airport Road into the former Potter’s House building. Berean Bible Church sold its building to our local Vineyard Christian Fellowship [link] and moved to a private home. And two of the successor churches to our now-defunct Calvary Chapel are also making transitions. Blaze Christian Fellowship moved to a new space in a business park on the south end of town [link], and Calvary Santa Fe appears to be in the midst of a pastoral succession.
The pastor who led Calvary Santa Fe to drop its Calvary Chapel affiliation, Paul Scozzafava, originally came to Santa Fe from Albuquerque, where he was on the board at “Big Calvary,” and served in that capacity during the Skip Heitzig/Pete Nelson succession controversy. He initially came to Santa Fe in response to a request from a group of people who had left the then-existing Calvary Chapel; for a very brief time there were two Calvary Chapels in Santa Fe. When the pastor of the existing church resigned, Scozzafava became the pastor of a merged church with Calvary Chapel affiliation.
Over the course of the next few years he and the church moved in a more Reformed direction, and eventually dropped their Calvary Chapel affiliation. Very careful observers will note that the cross on the sign above has been cut down from the more complicated fish/dove/cross Calvary Chapel logo. Scozzafava has also suffered from some poorly-diagnosed or undiagnosed condition [link] that may or may not be Parkinson’s disease, and has not spent much time in the pulpit since September 2009 [link]. It is my understanding that he spent the last year-plus finding and training a successor, missing at least one agreed-upon deadline for stepping down along the way.
Now it looks to us amateur Kremlinologists like the transition is finally underway; the most visible of the church’s signs do not currently list a
pastor by name, the church has announced that it will be consolidating its two Sunday morning services into one [link], and it has apparently budgeted for additional publicity. Flyers and signs announcing the current sermon series (not pictured) have started appearing around the south side of town.
I for one hope this turns out to be nothing but a good thing for all involved; that Mr Scozzafava can get the medical treatment and work schedule he needs, and the church gets a pastor that is able to serve the needs of the congregation. If I were looking for the future of Calvary Chapel (a post-Chuck-Smith movement moving in a more Reformed direction) I might be inclined to look at this church, so I hope it is able to find its feet soon. I hesitate to mention that the predecessor church ran four services on Saturday night and Sunday circa 2001, totaling somewhere in the vicinity of 1000-1200 people, and attendance this church has been steadily declining over the last five or so years, coinciding with both the pastor’s illness and the church’s drift into Reformed theology. While the announcement linked above suggests that the consolidation is intended to improve fellowship and community, I can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t also have the beneficial side effect of cutting the pulpit time (not to say the preparation time) in half.
I’m sure you’re wondering where Calvary Chapel is in all of this; it turns out they’ve started a video service at a movie theater on the other end of town [link] under the leadership of Nate Heitzig, son of Skip, and Ray Del Toro. I haven’t visited them yet and mean to do so soon.
James White gave a review and response to E. P. Sanders and N. T. Wright’s New Perspective on Paul (NPP) at Calvary Santa Fe’s Discern 2010 conference [mp3|stream]. There are other NPP writers; White focused on these two.
This was an unexpected delight; not White’s response, necessarily, but the fact that NPP merited inclusion in the conference. Paul Scozzafava, the executive pastor at Calvary, handed out the topics, and White mentions that he was surprised that Scozzafava asked him to handle this topic. I was surprised, too: I have my doubts that there are many people at Calvary Santa Fe who know anyone who has even heard of NPP, much less understand it. I had personally heard very little about it, and unlike e.g. Open Theism or some of the Alternate Gospels stuff had never heard someone who isn’t a believer mention it.
The basic idea is this: the Reformers misunderstood Paul (that’s the Old Perspective) and based their theology on their misunderstanding to all of Protestantism; this misunderstanding can now be corrected because modern scholars understand Second Temple Judaism (Judaism in the time of Jesus, Paul, the Pharisees, etc.) better and differently. These corrections include the following points:
- The gracious nature of the Covenant; Judaism did not include a “works-righteousness”
- Paul believes that Judaism remains a fully valid religion
- Righteousness is not imputed to the believer by faith or by anything else; imputed righteousness is a “legal fiction”
- Paul was really a political writer and his political writings were misunderstood as being religious; the (Jewish) Exile is the key to understanding Paul
- Justification is eschatological
There is of course more to it than that, and I’m sure I’m not doing it justice.
Before I delve into White’s response, I’d like to note that much of his discussion dealt with the continuity between Sanders and Wright, and included excerpts from their books. I got the feeling that White had, due to the difficulty of the topic, and the fact that it lies outside the bulls-eye of his expertise, did the best he could but ran out of time. I’d recommend listening to the audio above; unfortunately he didn’t read all the excerpts he showed the audience, so some of his presentation gets lost in transcription.
White’s major points were these:
- Wright doesn’t understand what the Reformers said
- Wright’s ecumenical tendencies pollute his analysis
- Wright’s a liberal
- Wright sells out systematic theology and the theological harmony of Scripture
This first point seems to be an obligatory figure for anyone coming from a Reformed perspective responding to anyone who believes differently. It’s a claim that’s cheap to make if the speaker isn’t willing to then summarize what he thinks the Reformers really said. White doesn’t do the heavy lifting here, so there’s no point in dealing with this.
White responded to Wright’s ecumenicism with scorn, suggesting that because it’s impossible to reconcile Catholic and Protestant theology anyone who suggests something that might do just that is delusional or worse. This was not White’s finest moment; scorn is a poor stance for a gentleman and a scholar, especially given biblical suggestions that studying Scripture will keep one from “the seat of the scornful.”
The last two points are linked; he says Sanders and Wright don’t believe Paul wrote all the books attributed to him, that there’s no need to harmonize Paul’s writings amongst themselves, let alone with the whole of Scripture, and if they felt the need to do this they wouldn’t draw such silly conclusions about Paul. This struck me as a weak argument. The problem with White’s response generally was that it didn’t respond to the heart of the NPP argument, but rather at some of its implications. I’m accustomed to this sort of argumentation from fundamentalists, but I’m still surprised when I hear it from Reformed types.
Still, White’s last point is worth examining. There is a tendency in modern Christianity to behave as if the Bible itself were a systematic theology text, so that an attack on systematic theology is an attack on the very Word of God itself. It isn’t. Systematic theology is a tool people developed long after the time of the Apostles to help them understand Scripture, and it’s dangerous to think we know what Paul or any of the other authors thought apart from what they actually said.
I still have no idea whether Sanders and Wright and their ilk are right or wrong; I suspect they’re wrong, but White didn’t really give me good reasons to suspect that.
It’s always a perilous thing to visit someone else’s church: you run the risk of turning an anecdote into a diagnosis, or mistaking a particular sermon (or worse, an offhand comment or story told from the pulpit) as indicative of something deep and meaningful about the church, or whatever. So it is with some trepidation that I wade into the following story.
I visit Calvary Santa Fe a couple of times a year, typically during the part of the year that my home church has its service at 10:30AM. I sometimes catch the 9AM service at Calvary and get on with whatever I have to do. I’m also curious to see who is still around from the church I left six or so years ago. Also, I hear from time to time that the pastor, Paul Scozzafava, will be stepping down due to a chronic and disabling illness, leaving the pulpit to a handpicked successor, Ryan Ellsworth, but that never seems to happen.
Anyway, Calvary has a recently remodeled sanctuary, a place that looks like a warehouse from the outside but a miniature megachurch inside, complete with large video screens, new carpet, well-thought-out lighting, cry room, etc. and as a result has signs on the sanctuary doors asking people not to take the food and coffee they purchase in the lobby into the sanctuary. They also have prominent signs indicating that nobody will be admitted or readmitted into the sanctuary once the teaching has begun. They have a glass-fronted “court of the Gentiles” behind the sanctuary proper for people who arrive late or step out during the service. In my limited experience these last two are kind of unusual.
There are a surprising number of signs directing, forbidding, etc. various things inside the church: the men’s room toilet stalls had Please Flush signs (but not the urinal; I didn’t check the ladies’ room, so maybe this was a men-only admonition); the side door had a sign indicating that it would be locked after a certain time “for the safety of our children.” One of the hallways had a temporary sign saying nobody but conference staff and speakers were allowed past a certain point. Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive, but I thought it gave the impression that they were expecting no adults to be in attendance, or if someone in authority really thought people attending the church needed to be reminded that the outside world is dangerous, conference speakers need privacy and preparation time, and toilets need to be flushed.
The night of the debates I arrived by bike and needed to change out of my bike shorts etc. and into clothes appropriate for listening to a debate, so I had all my junk in a backpack. After I’d ducked into the restroom and changed I was on my way to the sanctuary when I was stopped by someone wearing a conference badge who told me I couldn’t take my backpack into the sanctuary. He said I’d either need to have it searched, or something; I immediately started opening my bag and directing him through its contents: laptop, bike shoes, sweaty clothes, and not much else. He explained that because they were having a debate they were being extra-careful about who and what got into the sanctuary. Perhaps they were on alert for militant Marianists, and I fit the profile.
Sure enough the next day there were no debates, and therefore no outsiders, and I brought the same bag with me and wasn’t subjected to a search or even a pat-down. I even took a Camel-Bak flip-top water bottle with me into the sanctuary.
As I mentioned in an earlier post I spent part of Friday and most of Saturday at Calvary Santa Fe’s Discern 2010 conference, and will be posting excerpts from my impressions of the conference etc. over the course of several days.
Calvary Santa Fe has kind of a complicated history; it is a successor church to a Calvary Chapel in Santa Fe. The original Calvary Chapel was a church plant in the usual Calvary style: a Bible study led by someone from Calvary Albuquerque grew into a substantial church with more than a thousand regular Saturday/Sunday attenders. However, under the leadership of Paul Scozzafava, the current executive pastor, the church took a Calvinist turn and gave up its affiliation with Calvary Chapel.
Calvary Chapel, of course, isn’t officially Calvinist or Arminian, and picks a mix of elements from the usual lists for its soteriology, and has a fairly vanilla pre-trib Dispensationalist eschatology. I don’t know why this is the case; I am guessing it’s what founder Chuck Smith brought with him from his Foursquare background or chose after he left, and will almost definitely be up for discussion once Chuck dies.
As a result of its history Calvary Santa Fe is a church that looks and feels kind of like a Calvary Chapel and from the pulpit sounds like an Independent Baptist church; the doctrinal statement [link] is a hybrid of Reformed soteriology and Dispensationalist eschatology without references to confessions we might expect from a Reformed Baptist church or any creeds whatsoever. The music is a mix of old hymns and new worship choruses played on contemporary instruments (guitars and drums mostly). Dress is mostly casual. Church governance is so far as I can tell entirely local, with just pastors and deacons and no evidence of denominational affiliation or even an external board. I don’t know if the church has members (like a Baptist church) or not (like a Calvary Chapel).
The speakers for the Discern conference [link] sort of run the gamut from Reformed to Baptist to Reformed Baptist: Fisher is a retired Independent Baptist; Rhodes is a Dallas graduate; Mayhue teaches at The Master’s Seminary, and his connection to John MacArthur was underlined for those of us who missed the connection, and White is an elder at a Reformed Baptist church. Soteriology per se surfaced only a couple of times in the talks I heard; of course it was lurking under the surface of the Sungenis-White debate on Predestination, and Rhodes made a passing reference to the importance of “making a decision for Christ” during his talk on cults, and many of those in attendance shifted somewhat uneasily in their seats.
One of the things that has surprised me during my visits to Calvary as they’ve made their move from one soteriological camp to the other is which faces I still see there after all this time. Certainly a lot of folks came and went for reasons having nothing to do with Calvinism, but at least some of them have stayed and migrated along with the church. I was surprised to encounter someone I knew socially at the early debate on Friday who spoke disparagingly of the “Calviminian” Calvary Chapel position vs. the Calvinism he now believes, complete with the apparently compulsory claims: that everyone who isn’t a Calvinist is Arminian; that Calvinism is a haven for relative diversity; that the Reformation was the high point of Christianity; that Joel Osteen is a typical Evangelical; and that every problem is at bottom a theological problem.
I guess I will have to come back to some of these points later. I really have no idea how typical Calvary Santa Fe is of an evangelical church that has taken a Calvinist turn, but I’m fascinated by the story. I get the impression that often a preacher will pick up a theme and stick to it week after week, in liberal or conservative churches, with sometimes surprising results, but I don’t often get to see the Before and After pictures of the same church. The PCA church I attend now, for example, is half-full of people who used to attend one of the more liberal PCUSA churches in the area, but during the Bush administration got tired of hearing politics Sunday after Sunday. Go figure.
I spent a chunk of my weekend at the Discern Conference at Calvary Santa Fe. Here’s the schedule:
Friday September 10
3PM: Robert Sungenis (Catholic) and James White (Reformed) debate Predestination
7PM: Robert Sungenis and James White debate The Assumption of Mary
Saturday September 11
9AM: Ron Rhodes: Assessing Alternative Gospels, Christs, and Christianities
10:30AM: Richard Fisher: The Most Dangerous Trend in the Church Today
11:45AM: Ron Rhodes: Does the Existence of Evil Really Disprove the Existence of God?
2:30PM: Richard Mayhue: Hell — Never, Forever, A While?
4PM: James White: The New Perspective on Paul
6:30PM: Richard Fisher: Hermeneutics
8PM: Richard Mayhue: Have We Missed It? (The Rapture)
Sunday September 12
9AM: James White: The Security of the Believer
11AM: Richard Fisher: Avoiding Worldliness
I’ve italicized the sessions I attended; I had commitments elsewhere that made it impossible for me to attend several sessions.
Admission Friday and Sunday was free; Saturday was $10, and there was nobody taking money at the checkin table after the first couple of talks. CDs of the debates were available for $5 by Saturday morning; according to the conference program free audio downloads will be available shortly. I will add links if possible once they are available.
Ten dollars for seven talks (plus two free talks and two free debates) is a good deal. I don’t know how the conference was funded; I’m guessing from the titles of people who attend Calvary Santa Fe. Less than a hundred people turned out (including conference volunteers), and the church provided coffee and snacks at breaks on Saturday, so I can’t imagine that the conference broke even.
I wish I had more time to devote to church conferences, and more conferences available within easy driving distance. I really should have taken advantage of the recent world view conference in Albuquerque, which featured among other speakers Os Guinness, Chuck Colson, Michael Novak, and former New Mexico Congressman Bill Redmond [link], all for only $25.
When I was a kid the churches we attended had regular week-long revival meetings, and on rare occasion a “prophecy conference” or a “Bible conference,” and Discern 2010 is most in the mold of the latter; it featured a rotating cast of speakers (unlike a typical revival) and was devoted to apologetics, more or less. I guess it’s worth pointing out that most of the talks at this conference were devoted to arguments against error/heresy/differences of opinion within Christianity, rather than on behalf of Christianity vs. other beliefs.
As I understood various speakers’ comments they were assigned their topics by Calvary executive pastor Paul Scozzafava; by and large the topics were things the speakers had written articles or books on before, so we usually heard talks that had been given in whole or in part elsewhere before. The exceptions being the two debates, of course, and White’s talk on New Perspective on Paul.
Most speakers at a conference like this lie somewhere on a continuum between professor and preacher, and their talks generally resemble to varying degrees lectures or sermons, where the lectures present truth claims, proceed as more or less linear arguments, and attempt to convince the listener of the truth of a conclusion, and the sermons are meant to be persuasive, rely more heavily on illustrations and appeals to emotion/authority/shared prejudice, and tend to be less linear. There seems to be a more or less generational divide among the speakers here, with retired pastor Fisher giving a sermon, occasional adjunct professor White giving a lecture, and the other two falling somewhere in between.