Thursday, August 28, 2014

Were you there at Calvary Chapel?

This past Sunday, I visited Calvary Chapel in Clearfield, Utah.

A bit of information about Calvary Chapel. Calvary Chapel was founded by Chuck Smith, a pastor in the Foursquare Church. (I did a blog about them earlier. Go check it out.) He believed the Holy Spirit gave him the gift of prophecy to start a new Christian organization which would shepherd many flocks. He began Calvary Chapel, which had elements from the hippie movement involved in it, in the 1960's following a split with the Foursquare Church.

A major setback in Calvary Chapel's history came in the 1980's when Smith prophesied that Christ would return by 1981 and the Great Tribulation would begin and last up until 1988. When this failed to happen, many left the Church, though it has still continued on.

Though I mentioned it was born out of the 1960's and the hippie movement, Calvary Chapel still maintains fairly conservative Christian doctrine. They like to think of themselves as an Evangelical church that is part way between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. They are fundamentalist in that they believe in the Bible is inerrant and take a more literal approach to it. They are Pentecostal in that they believe in gifts from the Holy Spirit.

Beliefs and practices of Calvary Chapel:

  • They like to view themselves more as a fellowship of churches than a denomination. Honestly, given that they have set doctrine, I don't see how they are not a denomination. But I very well could be missing a key distinction.
  • They believe in the Trinity.
  • Believe that Christ is the Messiah and Savior of mankind. He is the second person in the Trinity fully God and man.
  • Mankind is totally depraved with no goodness in him. A result of the Fall of Adam.
  • Mankind is saved only by God's grace. No works can save man.
  • God has predestined who will and will not be saved, but the individual still has to accept God's gift.
  • Christ died for the whole world, not just for the elect.
  • Mankind can resist God's grace.
  • They believe the saints shall endure to the end, but the world is full of sinful people who lead deviant lifestyles and call themselves Christians.
  • Believe in spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, faith healing, prophecy, etc.
  • Believe in baptism in the Holy Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit comes over them and fills them with grace.
  • Believe that baptism is an outward sign of being born again in Christ for believers only. Done by immersion.
  • Communion is practiced. Symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus and his atonement.
  • Conservative social values: homosexuality is condemned, abortion considered immoral, women are not made pastors, etc.
So, what was Calvary Chapel like?


Calvary Chapel in Clearfield is literally a tiny chapel in a subdivision. It's quaint on the outside. Not much to it structurally. The cross on top is gorgeous with the trees framing it as you stand in front of the entrance.

The interior is pretty much what I've come to expect from Evangelical chapels. A bunch of chairs lined up in rows facing a stage with a live band, a pulpit in the center, and a screen to project the song lyrics onto. There weren't many decorations to speak of. There were a couple maps on the wall, one of which had a picture of the Mediterranean and what looked like Paul's journeys. The second map was of the Holy Land and looked to be modern and ancient superimposed on each other. In front, where you typically see a cross in chapels, there was the logo of Calvary Chapel, a stylized outline of a dove representing the Holy Spirit.

Overall, it was a fairly simple and typical Evangelical chapel. Nothing of real note to it.

The People:

The people were pretty nice. So many of them came up to us and introduced themselves. They were all very warm and friendly with each other. They seemed to be from diverse walks of life. Some with tattoos, some in suits, a few wearing Christian themed t-shirts. One woman was singing the hymns and signing them in ASL to herself. I thought that was pretty cool to see.

Overall, fairly nice and energetic people of diverse backgrounds.

The Service:

I am glad that this is the last Evangelical service I am attending for the year, as I am getting strong deja vu with the description of the services. It was the same as the others in format: contemporary Christian rock music for the first portion, a couple prayers with some announcements, then a sermon.

The music was the most noteworthy part. It just kept going. We sang songs for the first 45 minutes with only announcements and a few brief words between the songs. The words were kind of degrading at times, with the man saying them saying things like, "We are filthy," and "We have nothing to offer you, God." He would then follow that up with something like, "But you love us, Lord."

There was then a sermon, as I mentioned, and then a blessing over the congregation before being dismissed. In all, it was only an hour and a half, but the lengthy music at the beginning made it feel a lot longer. I much prefer churches with only one or two hymns at the beginning.

Overall, pretty typical Evangelical service. Not much more to say other than what I have said.

The Message:

The sermon was interesting. It lacked structure, which is a common trend. I find with most churches the sermon is either completely written out and planned down to the smallest details, or it is completely free form with no structure at all. This congregation chose the latter. It began with him reading the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, then it went off on many unrelated topics.

As such, I will present this sermon in bullet points of topics addressed, and then discuss one peculiarity I found at the end.
  • God promises happiness unaffected by circumstances.
  • We are totally dependent on God.
  • Before God, we are in abject poverty.
  • You are bad, you should mourn your sins daily.
  • Mourn your sins as King David did after he sinned with Bathsheba.
  • There is unhealthy grief, like when men are ending their addiction to porn and are grieving the loss of it like it was their best friend. (I'm going to be honest, that one almost made me laugh.)
  • Raising of Lazarus.
  • You should feel like dirt and endure God's wrath without anyone keeping you from fully experiencing your godly sorrow when you sin.
  • And then, all of this was followed up with the contradictory statement, "God doesn't want us to feel like dog meat our whole lives. He wants us to feel joy." This is in complete contrast to everything else mentioned above.
One thing that struck me though was the pastor told a story that my friend immediately recognized as a story from the internet. I looked the story up and sure enough, it is floating around the internet. The story is of a man standing in line at Burger King (retold as McDonalds in the pastor's version). There's a mother with her son behind him. The son is using foul language demanding the mother buy him an apple pie. The man is frustrated and outraged, so he buys all the apple pies just so the boy can't have any. In the pastor's story, there is an additional detail of the man giving the boy a pie after the boy starts behaving.

Now, it appears that this is a real story as all the sources I'm seeing of it put it in Canada and remain fairly consistent. I have no problem with the pastor telling this story, except he was trying to pass it off as something that happened to him. I hadn't heard this story, so I didn't think about it much. But once my friend told me it was on the internet, I suddenly questioned all the stories this pastor was telling as examples of his points. 

Why would you lie about a story like that when it's so easy to prove it didn't happen to you? It's very interesting seeing someone who's supposedly a man of God, up in a pulpit telling people how wicked
they are, meanwhile, he's needlessly lying about a life story. It does raise up some flags as I am 100% certain lying is a sin in every branch of Christianity. If you're willing to deceive everyone about something so small, then it's not hard to envision you lying about something major. I have no proof that he is. But it does make me question things.

Overall, the sermon was a huge guilt trip mixed in with Bible verses and stories about the pastor's life, which I question, that illustrate his points.

Overall Experience:

This church was truly what it claimed to be, a hybrid of the fundamentalist and Pentecostal traditions. It was a good way to end my visits to the Evangelical churches as it was full of the guilt and hell fire sermons I've seen in the fundamentalist churches and also filled with the contemporary worship and music of the modern Evangelical movement.

I wouldn't return to this church. It's more of the same, plus a lot of guilt, and a pastor I don't trust.

Additional Notes:

Due to some things going on this weekend, I will not be visiting a church, but don't worry. I will be doing a blog on a special event happening in my city, the Ogden LDS Temple open house. For those of you who have wondered what a Mormon temple is like inside, I will be describing my experience inside one.

I am also working on getting some interesting new religious traditions in the upcoming blogs, including a Heathen service, a Satanist one, Mennonites, Thai Buddhists, and much more. We're almost to the final ten churches, so be prepared for some fun!

Until next time, peace be with you.