In the late 1960s, the first Calvary Chapel was started in Costa Mesa, California, as a small nondenominational church of 25 members, pastored by Chuck Smith. The Lord blessed that small group, and now Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa is home to some 30,000 believers.
From the beginning, Calvary Chapel has been focused on leading people to Christ and discipling them so that they can go out into the world and lead others. The Lord has blessed this commitment, and Calvary Chapel has grown to 850 churches in North America and almost 200 churches in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. We truly take to heart our Lord’s command in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Part of Calvary Chapel’s discipling ministry is “The Word for Today,” which publishes Bible study books and tapes all over the world; KWVE, which broadcasts God’s Word to all of Southern California; and Calvary Chapel’s Bible College, which provides Bible education to thousands at its home campus in Twin Peaks, California, and more than 20 extension campuses worldwide.
Because of its size and influence, many Christians have asked exactly what Calvary Chapel believes and what makes us distinct. At Calvary Chapel, we have always been hesitant to answer those questions, not because we are unsure of our beliefs, but because we are cautious to avoid division within the body of Christ. After all, what really matters is what we have in common as Christians, the essential doctrines of: the infallibility of God’s Word; the virgin birth of Christ; Christ’s sinless life, death for our sins, and bodily resurrection; Christ’s ascension to glory; and His personal return to rule over the earth. This is the essence of Christianity and agreed upon by all born-again believers.
When Christians move away from these foundational doctrines to those that are less essential, there is always a risk of setting barriers up in the church, something we at Calvary Chapel have no desire to do.
It is not our purpose to cause division or discord in the body of Christ; rather, we long for unity among all of God’s people, and we allow for a great deal of flexibility even within our own church.
In a broad general sense, Calvary Chapel is the middle ground between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism in modern Protestant theology. In fact, we believe that this is at least part of the reason why God has raised up this ministry.
Fundamentalism is that portion of Protestantism which holds to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures, believing that they are divinely inspired and inerrant. Hence, the “fundamentals” of the faith are emphasized. Although the modern news media and the liberal church scorn fundamentalists as backwards and stupid, the truth is that fundamentalism has preserved the integrity of God’s Word and held on to the essential doctrines of the orthodox faith. Pentecostalism as a modern movement grew out of the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century, and spawned denominations that emphasize the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual and Scriptural gifts of the Spirit which had fallen dormant in the main line churches. Also criticized by the liberal church and news media as being emotionally driven, Pentecostalism restored to the church the importance of gifts of the Spirit and the power of God for the believer today.
Over the years, however, fundamentalism, while it clung to the integrity of God’s Word, tended to become rigid, legalistic, and un-accepting of spiritual gifts. Similarly, Pentecostalism became enthusiastic and emotional at the expense of the teaching of God’s Word.
Calvary Chapel is the balance between the two. 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.
To quote Pastor Chuck Smith: “We believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Scriptures, and that they are valid for today if they are exercised within the Scriptural guidelines. We as believers are to covet the best gifts, seeking to exercise them in love that the whole Body of Christ might be edified. We believe that love is more important than the most spectacular gifts, and without this love all exercise of spiritual gifts is worthless.”
Because of this balance, Calvary Chapel services are designed to be centered around the verse by verse teaching of God’s Word, and special “after glow” services are provided where the gifts of the Holy Spirit can operate freely under the leadership of mature Christians. Many Pentecostals think Calvary Chapel is not emotional enough, and many fundamentalists think Calvary Chapel is too emotional. That balance is indication, in my opinion, that we are right where God wants us to be.
Calvary Chapel also differs from most mainline churches in its style of church government. Most denominational churches maintain either a congregational form of church government, a Presbyterian form, or an Episcopal form of running their churches. These three terms should not be confused with the denominations that bear the same names because other churches of different names share the same styles of government.
The congregational form of church government is an American invention and appeals to our American sense of democracy. Basically, the congregation as a whole makes all decisions in these churches by voting on matters of importance and appointing committees from its ranks to run the daily operation of the church. Most Congregational, Baptist, Pentecostal, Brethren, and non-denominational churches are organized in this fashion. The congregation votes on hiring a pastor, votes on how to spend the money, and on anything else of importance. Although democratic people like the idea, congregational forms of church government often wind up at best causing the pastor to be directed by the sheep he is supposed to lead, and at worst reducing the pastor to a hireling.
The Episcopal form of church government, used by Episcopalian, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist churches (to name a few) is controlled by a church hierarchy which may have differing names. Basically, there is a bishop, or someone of similar stature if called by a different name, who oversees the churches, appoints pastors to pulpits, sets policy, and guides the vision of the local congregations. Unfortunately, this style of government, which grew out of European monarchies, leaves little freedom for the local pastor or congregation to follow the leading of the Spirit.
The Presbyterian form of church government, which is typical in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, puts the decisions of church policy in the hands of a select group of elders (the “presbytery”) who are appointed in various different ways, depending on the church. These elders are over the pastor, who in turn is over the congregation. The problem here too is that this system puts the God-appointed leader, the pastor, under some of those he is supposed to lead.
Calvary Chapels are organized differently. 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, as are deacons to 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 investments. 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 lead by the Holy Spirit, and we trust God to put pastors where He wants them to be.
At Calvary Chapel we believe in all the fundamental doctrines of the evangelical Protestant church. For example, we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, that the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is the inspired, infallible Word of God.
We believe that God is eternally existent in three separate persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe that God the Father is the personal, transcendent, and sovereign creator of all things.
We believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, provided for the atonement of our sins by His vicarious death on the Cross, was bodily resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit, ascended back to the right hand of God the Father, and ever lives to make intercession for us.
After He ascended to Heaven, Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit on the believers in Jerusalem, enabling them to fulfill His command to preach the Gospel to the entire world, an obligation shared by all believers today.
We believe that all people are by nature separated from God and responsible for their own sin, but that salvation, redemption, and forgiveness of sin are freely offered to all 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.
As we previously mentioned, we believe in the proper Scriptural exercise of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, the greatest gift of all being God’s love.
At Calvary Chapel, we await the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. Calvary Chapel is strongly committed to a belief that the church will be raptured before the seven year tribulation period described in Revelation chapters 6 through 18. We recognize that other believers hold a different view, but this is the way we see the Scripture’s teaching on this subject.
We believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ with His saints to rule on the earth will be personal, pre-millenial, and visible. This motivates us to heartfelt worship, committed service, diligent study of God’s Word, regular fellowship with other Christians, and participation in both adult baptism by immersion and in Holy Communion.
Calvary Chapel rejects the teaching of “Amillenialism” which spiritualizes Scripture and denies the literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth as described in Revelation chapter 20.
Calvary Chapel is a fellowship of believers in 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 overemphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the body of Christ.
1. We believe in what is termed “The Apostles’ Creed” as embodying all the fundamental doctrines of orthodox evangelical Christianity.
2. We believe 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.
3. 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; and that He saves from sin and death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ.
4. 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 atoning death; bodily resurrection; ascension into heaven; perpetual intercession for His people; and personal, visible return to earth. We believe that He is one and the same as God. He was fully human and fully God.
5. 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 that Jesus Christ baptizes the seeking believer with the Holy Spirit and power for service, either at the time of or subsequent to regeneration, which is a separate work from the indwelling Spirit for salvation. 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.
6. We believe that all the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, and that they are the infallible rule of faith and practice.
7. We believe 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 by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When a person repents of sin and accepts Jesus Christ as his/her personal Lord and Savior, trusting Him to save, that person is immediately born again and sealed by the Holy Spirit, all of his/her sins are forgiven, and that person becomes a child of God, destined to spend eternity with the Lord.
8. We await the pre-tribulation rapture of the church, and we believe in the literal Second Coming of Christ with His saints to rule the earth, which will be personal and visible. This motivates us to holy living, heartfelt worship, committed service, diligent study of God’s Word, regular fellowship, participation in adult baptism by immersion and Holy Communion.
9. We are neither Five-Point Calvinists, nor are we Arminianisms. We adhere firmly to the biblical teaching of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. We avoid any theological systems of belief that go beyond the written Word and thereby divide the body of Christ.
10. We do not believe in “positive confession” (the faith movement belief that God can be commanded to heal or work miracles according to man’s will); human prophecy that supersedes the Scriptures; the incorporation of humanistic and secular psychology into biblical teaching; the overemphasis of spiritual gifts and experiential signs and wonders to the exclusion of biblical teaching; or that true Christians can be demon-possessed.
11. We believe in the universal Church, in the living spiritual body, of which Christ is the head and all regenerated persons are members.
12. We believe 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 communion, both of which are open to all believers in Jesus Christ.
13. We believe in the laying on of hands for the sending out of pastors and missionaries, and in conjunction with the anointing of oil by the elders for the healing of the sick.
14. We believe the only true basis of Christian fellowship is Christ’s (agape) love, which is greater than differences we possess, and without which we have no right to claim ourselves Christians.
15. 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.
16. We believe worship of God should be inspirational; therefore, we give great place to music in our worship.
17. 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 on how He should be worshiped. We seek to teach the Word of God in such a way that its message can be applied to the individual’s life, leading that person to a greater maturity in Christ. We teach both expositionally and topically.
18. 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 worshiping Him.
19. We believe that the church government should be simplistic rather than a complex bureaucracy, and we depend on the Holy Spirit to lead, rather than on fleshly promotion.
20. We believe that the Bible clearly delineates that spiritual gifts are for the edification of the body and that they are to be exercised in love. We believe that love is more important than the most spectacular gifts, and without love, all exercise of spiritual gifts is worthless. 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 practice speaking in tongues during worship or while a Bible study is in progress because we do not believe that the Holy Spirit would interrupt Himself. God is not the author of confusion. These gifts are encouraged in more intimate settings, e.g. afterglow services and small groups where their benefit can accomplish the purpose for which they have been given – the edification of the body of Christ.
Statement of Faith
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 our Lord in truth and sincerity.
While there are many additional areas of policy and doctrine we could discuss, and while we could write volumes in an effort to defend all our positions against other positions, this is not our desire. Our desire is to simply adore Jesus, and we invite all God’s people to join us as we do so.
On the other hand, there have been people who have started churches and called them Calvary Chapel that hold views and practices very different from what has been described here. In our opinion, it would be better if they would take a different name for their churches that more accurately reflects what they believe and practice so as not to confuse people who are looking for a ministry that is in line with what we have described on the previous pages.
While many different kinds of people attend and pastor Calvary Chapel affiliated churches, all of the Calvary Chapel leadership (men such a Raul Ries, Greg Laurie, Mike MacIntosh, Jeff Johnson, Skip Heitzig, Don McClure, Steve Mays, and Wayne Taylor) agree on the essential elements of this booklet, although their individual styles of ministry, methods of preaching, and visions for outreach vary greatly.
We seek the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace and love and believe that God has called us to a unique ministry that fulfills His special purpose in this generation. May God bless you as you seek to draw near to Him in love.
Many people are under the impression that a particular style of worship is insisted upon at Calvary Chapel, that style being the soft contemporary sound made popular by Maranatha! Music and by Asaph Records (which both originated at Calvary Chapel). Although most Calvary Chapels do utilize a form of contemporary worship, there are actually a great variety of styles of music found in our churches. Some are very traditional and conservative, with organs or pianos and hymns, while others prefer electric guitars and drums. Having no set style of worship makes a Calvary Chapel unique; rather there is wide latitude in expression. All of us desire, of course, that whatever the style of worship, it come from our hearts.
Similarly, some of the worship services at Calvary Chapels are quite traditional, while others are more contemporary. Some of our churches are filled with elderly people in suits and ties, some are filled with young people in jeans and tee shirts, and many are a combination of all different ages, styles, and races of folks who come together with one common focus: love for Jesus Christ and the desire to know Him more intimately.
I recently spoke at one of the larger Calvary Chapel affiliates where seven different ethnic groups of people who range in age from teens to quite elderly gather every week filled with the love of Jesus. That is typical of a Calvary Chapel church. Most are places where anybody with any style of dress or musical taste or culture feels welcome.
When a person decides to follow Jesus Christ, baptism by full immersion in water is the next step in their Christian walk.
Baptism is a sign of a faith already possessed. It is not so much a matter of the water, but a matter of the will – an outward expression of an inward change. It is the opportunity to publicly identify ourselves with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Baptism also shows an attitude of repentance toward God and displays our admission that we desperately need a Savior. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, helps us to fully comprehend the purpose of this fundamental rite:
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4
By regularly exhorting new believers to symbolically bury their old, sinful nature in a watery grave, our heart at Calvary Chapel is to help them start their new life off with a bang!