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“Why we left Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa”

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:

  1. Calvary Chapel is Chuck Smith’s church association; CCCM is his church
  2. 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
  3. Chuck takes swipes at other Christian groups (some denominations, some not). The author calls this elitist; I’d be inclined to call it adversarial
  4. CCCM took shape in the 1960s and 1970s and considers that its golden age
  5. 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.

  1. March 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    That is what happens in many of these churches with a ‘cult of personality’. The main guy /gal is so strong that the central message of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus often has to compete with the person up front.

  2. March 4, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    We left Calvary Chapel and found a great church in the Newport Beach area.

    Take a listen to this and see what you think:




  3. Connie Fung
    March 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa is God’s Church.

  4. March 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    God’s Church is any church where the Word is being proclaimed and people believe it.

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