August 22, 2005

On the Independence of Calvary Chapel Congregations

GetReligion is running a story on two recent clergy termination scandals in California Calvary Chapels. While these stories are clearly tragic, I think that tmatt's discussion misrepresents the organization of Calvary Chapel. First, as one of the cited articles points out, there is a disciplinary measure available to, and used by, Costa Mesa: disaffiliation. Churches who do not subscribe to the beliefs and practices of Calvary Chapel are disaffiliated and prohibited from using the Calvary Chapel trademark. Calvary Chapel pastors, generally, are accountable to the pastor of some "parent church." For instance, my pastor at Calvary Chapel on the King's Highway is one of several who meet with, and are unofficially overseen by, Joe Focht of Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia. These overseeing pastors can report back to Costa Mesa if there is a problem and the pastor in question can be disaffiliated if necessary. Also, problems like those in Laguna Beach are created by compromises to the Calvary Chapel philosophy of church government which are made due to regulations of state goverments requiring non-profits to have boards (see here). Part of the point of Calvary Chapel's organization is that pastors should not be "hirelings" (see John 10:12-13). No one within the local congregation should have the authority to fire the pastor, because this undermines the authority relationships that are supposed to exist. But a pastor must have accountability somewhere, and therein lies the problem that Calvary Chapel and similarly organized churches must struggle with. Calvary Chapel's answer is an accountability structure that amounts to an unofficial episcopacy, backed by the threat of disaffiliation.

What has happened in the cases reported clearly represents a breakdown in this system. I don't understand why Costa Mesa did not step in sooner. For instance, based on 1 Corinthians 6:1-7, these lawsuits ought not to have been permitted. The disputes should have been settled by binding arbitration before pastors and elders of Calvary Chapel, and if either party refused to submit to arbitration, that party should have been AT LEAST disaffiliated (if not excommunicated). Now this is a slippery slope, when there is money involved. A panel of clergy orders you to pay some kind of settlement to another church member in binding arbitration and if you refuse you are excommunicated. What is to stop corruption? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to another related problem that you may have noticed above: Calvary Chapel can only disaffiliate pastors, it cannot remove them from their local churches. Presumably no one has the authority to do this. The answer, in both cases, is that Calvary Chapel is not (and none of us should be) afraid to let a church collapse when that is what is needed. I personally think that we must be prepared to let even whole denominations collapse in order to make way for God's next move; the longer and institution exists, the more it forgets its original purpose and the institution exists to preserve the institution. If abuses of power occur in a church, people will leave. If a pastor is disaffiliated from Calvary Chapel, his congregation will decide for themselves whether the disaffiliation was just, and if it was they will leave.

One more tangential remark: I do not unconditionally endorse all Calvary Chapel doctrine and government. My ideal church would, I think, be about halfway in between Calvary Chapel and the Presbyterian Church in America, as far as both doctrine and practice are concerned. For instance, I think that Calvary Chapel's single pastor government ought to be replaced by a small board of elders (the Church of Jerusalem in Acts had a congregation of over 5000, and only 12 elders) who share the authorities and responsibilities Calvary Chapel now gives exclusively to the pastor, but these elders should not be elected by and subject to removal by the congregation, as this undermines the authority relationships that are supposed to exist here. Also, theologically, although I am an Arminian and a premillenialist, I am not a dispensationalist, and so sometimes find myself at odds with Calvary Chapel eschatology, etc. I also greatly appreciate the Presbyterian church's emphasis on intellectual pursuits, an emphasis increasingly lacking from American Evanelicalism.

Posted by kpearce at 11:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack