Special Report: By the Enemies You Make

Special Report: By the Enemies You Make
Vol: 78 Issue: 18 Tuesday, March 18, 2008

There was a link posted in our member’s forum to an article published by Christianity Today about Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel.

Now before I go on, let me say that I am not a member of Calvary Chapel, involved with Chuck Smith’s ministry or any Calvary Chapel-affliated churches.

Not because of any theological or philosophical disagreement of which I am aware; indeed, I’ve spoken in many Calvary Chapel churches, and will again.

I’m simply not part of the Calvary Chapel network, so I don’t have a dog in this fight, so to speak. I don’t really follow Chuck Smith that closely – most of what I know of Calvary Chapel I’ve learned from within the Omega Letter Fellowship.

I say all that to say that my opinion on the subject is independent of any particular denominational loyalty beyond where it touches the Gospel.

My first impression on reading “Day of Reckoning” by someone named Rob Moll, is that Moll doesn’t like Chuck Smith very much.

Or Calvary Chapel at all.

From page one of what was a seven-page web article, I had the impression the writer began with his conclusion, then cherry-picked specific instances and selectively quoted sources to support it.

Moll begins by commending Calvary Chapel’s doctrinal view with faint praise, noting it:

“[A]ppear[s] the epitome of evangelical balance and moderation: neither Calvinist nor Arminian, neither Pentecostal nor cessationist.”

In his next paragraph, Moll hints darkly that the alleged doctrinal balance is only an illusion. . . .

“Talk to Calvary Chapel pastors about their vibrant network of 1,300 churches across the U.S., however, and they’ll offer two radically different views.”

I read the whole seven page article twice trying to find where Moll discovered Calvary Chapel was NOT the doctrinal ‘epitome of balance and moderation’ he promised to prove at the outset.

Maybe I’m thick, but about the only thing about Calvary Chapel that Moll did NOT attack was the balance and moderation of Calvary Chapel’s “doctrine”; ie; “neither Calvinist nor Arminian, neither Pentecostal nor cessationist.”

On the contrary, Moll mentioned Smith’s resistance to forming a “Calvary Chapel” denomination several times, effectively undercutting his own argument that Smith’s doctrine was questionable.

Instead, the bulk of the article consisted of interviews with disgruntled former members of the various Calvary Chapel affiliates.

It was an obvious and clearly unfair ‘hit’ piece, and a pretty shallow one, at that.

On one hand, Moll criticizes Smith for not organizing a strictly controlled, top-down hierarchy, then on the other, holds his organization responsible for the conduct of autonomous pastors as if it were.

Moll was unable to hide his sense of offense at Smith’s contention that pastors should be accountable to God, raising the issue several times in order to attack it from different directions.

In a section subtitled, “How Accountable Was Moses?” he quotes Smith from an interview in which Smith explained the Biblical model he used to develop his ministry.

“We take the model from the work that God established in the nation of Israel. Moses was the leader appointed by God. He took 70 men, and they assisted Moses in overseeing the mundane types of issues that developed within the nation. There was the priesthood under Aaron.”

“Similarly we have assistant pastors, and they look to me as the senior pastor. I’m responsible to the Lord. We have a board of elders. We go over the budget. The people recognize that God has called me to be the leader of this fellowship. We are not led by a board of elders. I feel my primary responsibility is to the Lord. And one day I’m going to answer to him, not to a board of elders.”

Although Moll subtitled this section, “How Accountable Was Moses?” he must have just liked the way it sounded. If he did answer his own question, it was somewhere else. So I will answer for him.

Moses was so accountable to God that when Moses sinned, God killed him. (But Moses was NOT accountable to a board of directors, who probably would not have.)

Opines Moll (using the ‘critics say’ as a cover): “Critics say this “Moses model” produces pastors who refuse to let their authority be challenged,” Moll concludes.

When he does name names, Moll names disgruntled former members, like Andrew Holt, whom Moll informs his readers, “received a humiliating lesson in [Calvary Chapel] church power politics at his congregation in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“Holt claims,” Moll writes, “the pastor of his former church tried to commandeer the prison ministry he ran by reportedly telling the ministry’s board members and supporters that Holt was unfaithful to his wife.”

How, exactly, does this example impact Calvary Chapel as an organization? Moll writes that as a result of the controversy, monthly donations at the Kalamazoo church dropped from $2500 to $1000.

Ok, so donations dropped by more than half, (which I think is the point Moll is trying to make). But a church doing $2500/month in donations before the alleged scandal wasn’t exactly a representative Calvary Chapel megachurch.

Moll’s entire piece was like that. Wherever it was possible to read a situation two ways, Moll managed to find the darkest possible reading.

Early in the piece, Moll notes an ongoing legal battle between Smith and a former Calvary pastor over control of the Calvary Satellite Network’s ‘extremely valuable’ radio ministry.

According to Moll, “the litigation involves competing allegations of financial mismanagement of the ministry’s assets, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as the alleged personal use of ministry resources by insiders.”

It is just as accurate to assume the litigation involves Chuck Smith’s efforts to PREVENT the radio ministry from being taken over by somebody ELSE to be misused.

Particularly since Moll doesn’t identify which “insiders” on which side are alleged to have ‘misused [unnamed] ministry resources.’

Moll actually comes close, at one point, to admitting he approached the story conclusion-first, then seeking supporting evidence as an afterthought, writing:

“For nearly a year, CT has spoken with Calvary Chapel pastors, former pastors, and others, some of whom sought out CT unsolicited to tell their stories. Many, fearing retribution, asked to remain anonymous. Other leaders whose names are well known within the Calvary Chapel network either declined to speak to CT or denied the existence of significant problems.”

I’ve read that several times, now. Anonymous sources, fearing retribution, together with well known Calvary Chapel leaders who either declined to speak or denied the story was accurate. . . has Dan Rather taken up ghost-writing?

Continuing, Moll alleges, “Former pastors and board members say Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa doesn’t only prematurely restore pastors to ministry; it also covers up the sexual sins of its own pastoral staff.”

Then he goes on to relate a story based on information he obtained from unnamed “knowledgeable church insiders” (if Moll isn’t really Dan Rather under an assumed name, then he clearly has a real future with the New York Times) before adding, that “two [also unnamed] board members independently confirmed these details to Christianity Today.”

Independent confirmation by unnamed ‘board members’ of pastoral sexual sin. Well, it just doesn’t get any solider than that!

Moll later cites “another episode” of which Moll admits, “the facts remain in dispute.” (What does ‘the facts remain in dispute’ mean exactly?)

Although Moll freely notes that “Santa Ana police told CT that interviews with girls at the church could not verify that anything illegal had occurred,” Moll finds something sinister in the fact the accused pastor ‘remains on staff’.

Where Moll’s innuendo gets the deepest is when he goes after Calvary Chapel for its failure to shoot its wounded.

“Leading pastors told CT that Calvary Chapel, and specifically Chuck Smith, are dangerously lax in maintaining standards for sexual morality among leaders.

“These men cannot call sin sin,” says one 20-year veteran pastor. Easy forgiveness, insiders say, has created an atmosphere of sexual license, where some unethical pastors sense that there are few consequences for sexual misconduct.”

“Leading pastors” — whom might that be? Someone please give me an example of a ‘leading pastor’?

Would you pick John Hagee? Some would. How about Jack Van Impe? Some would. Hal Lindsey? Some would. Jack Kinsella? Some would. Pope Benedict II? Some would. Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Some would.

So the identification of a ‘leading pastor’ is, it would seem, in the eye of the beholder. As to the 20-year ‘veteran pastor’ who condemns Smith as “unable to call sin sin”, Chuck Smith has been a pastor since the 1950’s. Is HE a ‘veteran’ pastor? (At least, Chuck Smith puts his name with his doctrine.)

Why would Moll offer some unnamed pastor with unknown motives as evidence against Chuck Smith, I found myself asking. Is this the best he can do?

Moll admits in the second sentence of his hit piece that there are more than 1,300 Calvary Chapel-affliated churches in the USA, but he identifies fewer than a dozen ‘suspects’ by name and eliminates half before the last page. The bulk are ‘anonymous insiders’ or ‘leading pastors’.

Then he attacks the entire organization based on innuendo, the aforementioned anonymous sources of unknown background, unproved allegations, in all, providing less than a half dozen actual examples of wrong-doing and ethical lapses in support of his allegations.

Again, a half dozen actual instances out of 1,300 churches? This is scandalous? (Where was Moll when the Vatican was going broke paying out hush money?)

As I said at the outset, I’m not a blind defender of Calvary Chapel and I don’t know much about Chuck Smith apart from his reputation.

But I am a big defender of the Great Commission, and those who are faithful to its calling, and the Great Commission is the central organizational purpose and mission of the Calvary Chapel ministry franchise.

The focus of Calvary Chapel’s ministry, from the beginning, (even in Moll’s version) has been to lead the lost first to Christ, and then to church. And that seems to be where Moll finds the greatest evil.

As near as I can decipher his motive from the ‘examples’ Moll cites, he clearly believes it should be the other way around.

If that were true, it seems obvious that Chuck Smith wouldn’t have NEEDED to start Calvary Chapel in the first place.

It’s been said that the best way to take the measure of a man is by the enemies he keeps. I don’t recall if I’ve ever met Chuck Smith personally, but having read Christianity Today’s hit piece on him, I’d like to.

He seems like my kinda guy.

This entry was posted in Briefings by Pete Garcia. Bookmark the permalink.

About Pete Garcia

Christian, father, husband, veteran, pilot, and sinner saved by grace. I am a firm believer in, and follower of Jesus Christ. I am Pre-Trib, Dispensational, and Non-Denominational (but I lean Southern Baptist).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s