Because of its size and influence, many Christians have asked exactly what Calvary Chapel believes, what are its distinctives, what sets it apart from other Christian groups. At Calvary Chapel, we have always been hesitant to try and answer those questions, not because we are unsure of our beliefs, but because we are cautious to avoid division within the Body of Christ.
We long for unity among God's people of all persuasions, and we allow for a great deal of flexibility even within our own ranks. Calvary Chapel pastors are not clones who all believe exactly the same thing. Still, there are distinctives that make Calvary Chapel unique and which define our mission. While the following is certainly not exhaustive, we hope it helps to answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Calvary Chapel.DENOMINATION?
One of the most common questions we hear is: "What denomination is Calvary Chapel?" In a broad sense, Calvary Chapel is the middle ground between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism in modern Protestant theology. Calvary Chapel rejects the over-emphasis of spiritual gifts and experiential signs and wonders to the exclusion of Biblical teaching. In our services, we focus on a personal relationship with God through worship, prayer, and the teaching of the Word of God. We do not allow speaking in tongues loudly during services because we do not believe the Holy Spirit would interrupt Himself.
At Calvary Chapel we believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible, and we encourage their exercise, but always decently and in order, and with the primary emphasis on the Word of God, which we look to as our primary rule of faith.
Calvary Chapel services are designed to be centered around the verse-by-verse teaching of God's Word. Many Pentecostals think Calvary Chapel is not emotional enough, and many fundamentalists think Calvary Chapel is too emotional.WORSHIP
Some Calvary Chapels are quite traditional in their worship services, while others are more contemporary. Some of our churches are filled with elderly people in suits and ties, and some are filled with young people in jeans and tee shirts. Many are a combination of all different ages, styles, and races of people who come together with one common focus: love for Jesus Christ and the desire to know Him more intimately.LEADERSHIP
We believe the family is to be patterned after the church, and that the church is patterned on the eternal model of Jesus Christ (The Bridegroom) and His Bride (The Church). Since God has designed the man to be the "head" in the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:23; I Corinthians 11:3; I Timothy 2:12-13), we believe this pattern naturally follows for the church. We therefore look for godly men as pastors and elders to oversee the flock here at Calvary Chapel. We do not believe in ordaining women as pastors and/or elders. This does not at all mean that women cannot be used mightily in ministry. It only means that we do not believe the Lord has called women to be the "overseers" of the church.CHURCH GOVERNMENT
Church government at Calvary Chapel is very simple, not a complex bureaucracy. Committees and sub-committees are essentially non-existent. Basically, at Calvary Chapel we believe that the pastor is responsible for the church, responsible to hear from God, and responsible to feed and love His people faithfully. Elders are appointed in the larger churches to help the pastor care for the spiritual needs of the congregation, and deacons help the pastor care for the material needs of the church.
In addition, our churches have church boards as required by most states which vary in size depending on the size of the church, and which usually are made up of mature Christian businessmen who can advise the pastor with respect to the business operations and decisions of the church such as property management and financial matters. At Calvary Chapel, church organization is de-emphasized, and only the organization that is needed to run the church is instituted. The pastor guides the church as he is led by the Holy Spirit, and we trust God to put pastors where he wants them to be.CLARITY ON CERTAIN BELIEFS
At Calvary Chapel, we reject some popular doctrines of certain Christian groups because we believe them to be in error Scripturally. This does not mean that we will not fellowship with those holding these views, it simply means that such views are outside the boundaries of what constitutes a Calvary Chapel church.
At Calvary Chapel, we are strongly pre-millennialists and pre-tribulation rapturists.
We reject the belief, held by some Pentecostals and charismatics, that Christians can be demon possessed. The Scripture says "greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world" which makes no sense if a believer can be simultaneously indwelt by both the Holy Spirit and evil spirits. Christians can be attacked by demons, but they cannot be possessed or controlled by them.
We reject "five-point Calvinism." For a deeper understanding of what Calvinism is, see Calvinism, Arminianism & The Word of God by Pastor Chuck Smith, but for our purposes here, suffice it to say that Calvary Chapel rejects two of the five points of five-point Calvinism. First, Calvinism teaches that Jesus' atonement on the Cross was limited, that is, that He died only for a chosen group, His "elect," not for the sins of the entire world. At Calvary Chapel, we believe that Jesus died on the Cross for all the sins of all people, and that anyone can accept Him as Lord and Savior and be born again. Strict five-point Calvinists believe that only the elect can be saved and that God has elected others to spend eternity in hell.
Secondly, we reject the Calvinistic teaching called "irresistible grace," which is the belief that man cannot, even if he wants to, resist the wooing and calling of God to salvation. Instead, at Calvary Chapel we believe that man has free will and he can resist the call of God if he chooses to do so. Therefore, those who hold to five-point Calvinism are outside of the borders of what defines Calvary Chapel.
We reject the teaching of "positive confession." At Calvary Chapel, we believe that many believers, both in the Bible and in daily life, are often afflicted not because their confession is wrong, but simply because we live in a foreign world.
Some churches have incorporated human, secular psychology and philosophy into their teaching programs, creating sermons that are based more on secular humanistic theory than on the Word of God. While we respect our fellow believers who work in mental health related fields, we at Calvary Chapel believe that the central mission of the church is to proclaim God's Word to a lost and hurting world. We believe people respond best when God's Word is proclaimed in the power and love of the Holy Spirit. It is God's Word that changes lives for the better.
This is not to imply that we object to the work of the many dedicated Christian mental health professionals; conversely, we thank God for them. Our point is simply that in our ministry, we emphasize the teaching of God's Word.CONCLUSION
By clarifying some of what we believe at Calvary Chapel, our purpose has been simply to help others less familiar with the movement gain insight into who we are. It has not been our intention to say that we are right and everyone else is wrong, nor has it been our intention to argue our position with any Christian believer. We are content to agree to disagree, and we desire to have nothing but love and fellowship with anyone who calls on the name of the Lord in truth and sincerity.
Calvary Chapel St. Petersburg has been formed as a fellowship of believers under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our supreme desire is to know Christ and be conformed to His image by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only to their over-emphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.
WE BELIEVE that there is one living and true God, eternally existing in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, equal in power and glory; that this triune God created all, upholds all and governs all.
WE BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER an infinite, personal Spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power and love; that He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of men; that He hears and answers prayer; that He saves from sin and death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ.
WE BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, God's only begotten Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit. We believe in His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles and teachings, His substitutionary atoning death, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, perpetual intercession for His people, and personal, visible return to earth.
WE BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT, who came forth from the Father and Son to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and to regenerate, sanctify and empower in ministry all who believe in Christ. We believe the Holy Spirit indwells every believer in Jesus Christ and that He is an abiding Helper, Teacher and Guide. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit and in the exercise of all biblical gifts of the Spirit as reflected through the fruit of that same Spirit.
WE BELIEVE that all people are by nature separated from God and responsible for their own sin, but that salvation, redemption and forgiveness are freely offered to all, apart from works, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When a person repents of sin and accepts Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord, trusting Him to save, that person is immediately born again and sealed by the Holy Spirit, all his/her sins are forgiven, and that person becomes a child of God, destined to spend eternity with the Lord.
WE BELIEVE that the only true basis of Christian fellowship is Christ's unconditional (agape) love, which is greater than any differences we possess, and without which we have no right to claim ourselves Christians.
WE BELIEVE worship of God should be spiritual. Therefore, we remain flexible and yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct our worship.
WE BELIEVE worship of God should be inspirational. Therefore, we give great place to music in our worship.
WE BELIEVE worship of God should be intelligent. Therefore, our services are designed with great emphasis upon the teaching of the Word of God that He might instruct us how He should be worshipped.
WE BELIEVE worship of God should be fruitful. Therefore, we look for His love in our lives as the supreme manifestation that we have been truly worshipping Him.
WE BELIEVE that all the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, fully inspired without error in the original manuscripts, and the infallible rule of faith and practice.
WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ committed two ordinances to the Church: 1) Baptism, and 2) The Lord's Supper. We believe in Baptism by immersion and that The Lord's Supper (Communion) is open to all believers.
WE BELIEVE in the personal, visible return of Jesus Christ to the earth and the establishment of His Kingdom; the resurrection of the body; the final judgement and eternal blessing of the righteous and endless suffering for the wicked.
More About Calvary Chapel
To learn more about Calvary Chapel, visit CALVARY CHAPEL DISTINCTIVES to read the foundational principles of the Calvary Chapel movement.
In August 1982 a small group of believers in St. Pete, FL gathered together in an apartment with a young single pastor to form a new church. This group gradually grew and called themselves "Calvary Chapel." The pastor and a few others in the church had attended the same Christian college. One of their college friends, Danny Hodges, came down for a visit to play drums in a church-sponsored concert and was asked to consider joining the church to work with junior high students.A NEW PASTOR
Danny had just graduated in the spring of 1982 with a bachelor's degree in Youth Ministry. Confident that God had called him into full-time Christian work-perhaps with youth, but unsure of a specific calling-Danny sought the Lord's direction for full-time ministry. Having prayed about several opportunities, and eager to gain the experience of working in a ministry from the ground up, he felt a confirmation to take part in this young church that had only been meeting for one year.
In August 1983 Danny moved from Lynchburg, Virginia to St. Petersburg, Florida with dreams of starting a junior high ministry in this new church called Calvary Chapel. Several months later, through an unexpected turn of events, the pastor was led to return to his home town, and Danny was asked to become the pastor of this small group that wanted to continue meeting together. After much prayer and consideration, and believing this to be that specific call of God, Danny accepted the position and became the new pastor of Calvary Chapel in April 1984.
Over the next few years, through his own personal study of Scripture, Pastor Danny felt personally challenged in three specific areas.SPIRITUAL GIFTS
First, he began to discover that some of the teaching he had received in his traditional church background did not line up with his understanding of the Scriptures, particularly in regard to spiritual gifts. He believed the Bible clearly taught that all spiritual gifts are available to believers today, just as they were in the early church, but that they should be exercised appropriately according to scriptural guidelines. Pastor Danny felt a sincere desire to teach through the word of God and avoid extremism, particularly concerning areas often left to private interpretation.PRAISE AND WORSHIP
Second was the area of praise and worship. Not only was he personally challenged to truly worship the Lord "in spirit and in truth," but he sought to have a church service where believers could openly and freely express their praise and worship to God in a heartfelt way that was real and uncontrived. While he appreciated traditional hymns, he enjoyed the more contemporary praise music and longed to one day have a praise band that would inspire and facilitate genuine worship.BEING "REAL"
Third was his desire to be "real," and to have a fellowship of believers whose faith in Christ was real-not phony, plastic or simply religious. As a result, his style of dress for church services gradually became more casual, as he wanted those who attended (especially unbelievers) to feel comfortable just as they were without feeling it was necessary to get dressed up. He wanted all to feel equally welcome and accepted, from the homeless to the wealthy professionals, and understand that dress does not determine godliness.
With this approach to ministry, Pastor Danny began to feel somewhat out of place among other churches. Although he enjoyed fellowship with other local pastors, he wasn't sure who he could identify with in terms of his style of ministry. He was also seeking a balance between the extremes of Pentecostalism and Fundamentalism without compromising the word of God.
During those first few years, Pastor Danny was puzzled by numerous visitors who were from other Calvary Chapels across America. One such visitor, who had attended a large Calvary Chapel in California and was surprised by the striking similarities in the style of teaching and worship, urged Pastor Danny to attend a Calvary Chapel pastors' conference. In the summer of 1987 Pastor Danny attended his first Calvary Chapel Pastors' Conference in Costa Mesa, California and was introduced to Pastor Chuck Smith and the history and philosophy of ministry behind the Calvary Chapel movement. He immediately felt right "at home." Suddenly, he had come upon a ministry that taught and practiced the very things that God had personally been teaching him in his early years as a pastor. This was a ministry that exemplified the balance he was longing to achieve.
Pastor Chuck Smith had founded the non-denominational Calvary Chapel in the late 60's, during a time when most traditional churches were turning away the "hippies" of the day because of the length of their hair and their counter-culture lifestyle. Driven by a burden for those young people, Pastor Chuck reached out to them with love and understanding without compromising Christian principles. A result of this outreach was the birth of the "Jesus Movement," when thousands of young people turned to Christ. Some of these converts later became pastors and started other Calvary Chapels patterned after their mentor, Pastor Chuck.
At the conference, Pastor Danny was impressed by Pastor Chuck and the other pastors who seemed so real and ordinary, yet demonstrated such a genuine love for the Lord and others. He easily identified with many of the Calvary pastors who were former hippies, drug addicts, alcoholics, etc. as he, too, had been a hippie in his teen years and had also experienced drugs and alcohol. Moreover, he appreciated the simplicity and humility which was evident in their teaching and approach to ministry. In addition to an obvious love for the lost, Pastor Danny valued two outstanding characteristics for which Calvary Chapels are best known: 1) their strong emphasis on teaching through the word of God, verse by verse, and its application to every day life; 2) the high importance placed upon worship, which included a contemporary style of music designed to put believers in the place of intimate communion with God and ready their hearts for His word.A NEW CONNECTION
Surprisingly, during the conference Pastor Danny met two other pastors who had recently started churches in Florida: Pastor Bob Coy of Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale, and Pastor Kent Knottingham of Calvary Chapel Tallahassee. He also discovered that another pastor had left Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in 1984 to pastor an existing church in Florida: Pastor Malcolm Wild of Calvary Chapel Merritt Island. Pastor Danny was amazed to learn that three other like-minded churches already existed in his own state. He felt confident that God had led him to the unique ministry of Calvary Chapels and was blessed to find a fellowship of churches with whom he could closely align himself. Calvary Chapel St. Pete soon became an affiliate church of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.
Since that time, God has tremendously blessed the ministry of Calvary Chapel St. Pete. It has grown steadily from a handful of mostly young single adults to a church full of families where all ages are represented; from a small, one-room bingo lodge to a large, beautiful facility; from one weekly meeting to multiple Sunday services and various meetings almost every day of the week; from a fledgling piano player to several complete praise bands; from one volunteer secretary to a staff of several pastors, secretaries, and other employees.
Calvary Chapel St. Pete has been faithfully committed to sharing the gospel and teaching through the word of God. It has been exciting to see God's spirit bring many to salvation through Jesus Christ, to see lives change and mature in Christ, to see relationships bloom and grow, to see ministries evolve and prosper, to see a hunger for the word of God, and to see a passionate desire to win the lost to Jesus. May God continue to build His church!