Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Touch Not God's Anointed": Trouble at Calvary Chapel

Christianity Today, in an on-line article "Day of Reckoning," is reporting that Calvary Chapel is having both moral and ethical problems, rooted in some dubious theology regarding pastors. Calvary, as many people know, was part of the same national phenomenon that birthed Jesus People USA, the ministry / intentional community I've been part of for the past three decades. So this was a sad article to read. I always felt close to Calvary, and twenty years ago interviewed Chuck Smith, pastor of the original Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa who pretty much single-handedly runs the network of Calvary Chapels. So this doesn't come from an enemy of Calvary... far, far from it.

Much of the problem to me was summed up in Chuck Smith's own words:

During the investigation for this article, Smith cautioned CT's reporter: "The Lord warns, 'Don't touch my anointed. Do my prophet no harm.' I think that you are trying to do harm to the work of God. I surely wouldn't want to be in your shoes."

Unfortunately, such a self-referential claim of authority must be challenged and rejected immediately. Not least, because it amounts to a threat. The reporter is being told "Mess with me and God's gonna settle your hash." Others also using such threatening language in the recent past include Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn, Mike Warnke. I've never thought of Pastor Smith being numbered in such company, but honestly believe Christians should have an almost Pavlovian response when any -- I mean ANY -- alleged authority uses such Scripture twisting language to validate their actions and attitudes.

For one thing, a true prophet is usually known by two things. First, that prophet's words come true. And second, the prophet her or him self usually ends up dead at the hands of people who couldn't stand to hear the truth he was tellling.

For another thing, a true prophet is not the powerful head of what appears to be a corporate entity. He or she is rather the head of nothing except perhaps the lips or hand that write / speak prophetically.

There is rarely a biblical example of a true prophet telling someone "thus says the Lord" in which the prophet profits! I suggest one peruse the OT and NT to see if this stands. On the contrary, in every modern case I can think of where such words have been used, the alleged words from God did in fact directly strengthen the position (financially and power-wise) of the "leader" mouthing those words.

Next comes the issue of just who put the leader there. In fact, is the leader a leader or a misleader? I, for one, question that Mike Warnke (whose alleged "ex-satanist" testimony Mike Hertenstein and myself showed to be fabricated) was ever "anointed" by God to be anything. Likewise, for Benny Hinn to claim God's anointing awakens tremendous skepticism within me. Frankly, I don't think so.

And that brings up the issue of just what does make an American "evangelical leader" a leader. There is in fact very little resemblance between the first century Church's way of doing leadership and our way. Our consumerist culture has assured that the most "popular" leaders are often the worst leaders, not the best ones. But they are often gifted in one way or another, even if it is purely in shoveling hype.

Again, I hope and believe Chuck Smith is better than that. But children ended up hurt and abused sexually as the result of a doctrine Smith (and thus most Calvary Chapels) held regarding leadership. That doctrine, according to CT, comes from Smith's belief that Moses is the role model for leadership today:

"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."

Again, I question this on a number of levels. There is a (to me) undue fascination with Old Testament Israel among some Calvary leaders, linked in part I suspect to their belief that Israel the nation is at the center of prophecy (see Tim LaHaye's novels and Hal Lindsay's "Late Great Planet Earth" for two illustrations of this theology). But let's leave dispensationalism out of the discussion for the present.

Saying "God has called me" is very dangerous when said to defend one's power. It is, in effect, an usurpation of God's Name. A power claim over others is one which asserts authority of a unilateral nature and an alleged omniscient quality. If I tell someone, "God told me to tell you" x, y, or z... I'm treading on very, very thin ice which may end up drowning both me and those I'm claiming such authority over.

Please do pray for Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel, and those affected by mistakes made.

And as for the rest of us, lest we think we're immune, it might be a time for us to deeply ponder how God uses not just the Word but also human agency to insure that all of us can be accountable and held accountable.

Otherwise, there is only the frightening image I have never forgotten. Jimmy Swaggart, who upon being arrested with a prostitute and a back seat full of porn, said to the TV cameras: "I am responsible only to God."

Oh, yes, sir. You are indeed. If you insist. He gave you the Church for a reason, for as foolish and ungraceful as we can often be (and ARE!), we are also the very imperfect avenue through which His Grace flows out toward others. If we refuse accountability there is only judgement, becuase we by denying accountability also deny the power of conviction and of grace to save us from our own self-destructive egos and lust for power and prestige.

Or so this pilgrim, still very much an egoist himself, sees it...


Wendi Kaiser said...

Yes, I can understand your concerns about Chuck's application of this scripture to the present situation. Chuck would apply this scripture to all pastors not just himself, though. Chuck dislikes using public forums to air church problems. He does have a unique perspective on local church structure, also. It is more OT than Acts/NT in nature. But no particular church structure is without weaknesses. I personally endorse a more tribal/organic/ council type church government. (argh, but committees and governing by consensus takes forever!!!)

The problem isn't with the number of erring leaders or troubling church issues (that is the same everywhere in every denomination). The problem is lack of real authoritative structure in place to arbitrate, discipline (correct) or restore leaders/ or address problems. Calvary Chapel needs to evolve into the next step of national oversight to remain healthy. They have outgrown the local independent church government model. They need to convene and create national policies and national/regional boards to address and oversee church finances, ethics, business enterprises (such as properties, publishing, broadcasting, merchandising, trademakes), doctrinal and theological issues. These can be guidelines but national and regional overseers need real authority to intervene in local church crisis. I think a modified Evangelical Covenant Church model could be effective in addressing these problems and helping them grow into a healthy 21st century international organization. Of course, if in fact Calvary Chapel nationally takes this kind of direction it will alienate many local churches and pastors. You can't please everyone.

I admire Chuck Sr"s and Chuck Jr's continuing dialogue even when they disagreed on methodology, theology and worship expressions. I understand that the Senior has to voice his differences and yet proclaim his love for his son. My church is in between the two when it comes to our theological understandings and church expressions. We would find Junior's stance a little too left of center and Senior's position a little too right of center!!

Wendi Kaiser said...

Jon, here are my comments on your recent blog. I believe Chuck waved a red flag for you. I do think it was ill-advised for Chuck to use that particular scripture (several references in the OT 1 Sam. 26: 8-10, 1 Chron.16:22, Ps.105:15) and actually it was out of context. One reference concerns David. David said he would not physically harm King Saul but David and Samuel both spoke out against Saul's disobedience to the Lord and his injustices to themselves and others. Samuel personally saw God remove a good leader, Eli who did not discipline his "co-workers". Samuel and David knew that God would be the ultimate judge and God would physically remove King Saul in His time. God has never prohibited anyone from telling the truth in love. Does Pastor Chuck feel that someone is trying to harm him physically? If so, then those scriptures would apply. Still does Pastor Chuck want to compare himself to King Saul (or Eli?) who were in obvious disobedience to God?

A better scripture for Pastor Chuck would have been found in the NT, 1 Tim. 5:19. This scripture also allows public rebuke of an unrepentant elder if after several witnesses come forward with the accusations (the problems)and the accusations are proven to be true.

The CT article does not accuse Pastor Chuck of personal immorality, financial sins or doctrinal error. It does call into question matters of church governance or the lack of it.

With this said, I believe that Calvary Chapels in general are good churches as far as earthly churches go. They lack a central governing body (checks and balances), national policies for church finances, corporate matters, church discipline and largely are still operating on an independent local church model which is proving an ineffective method for overseeing the huge national and international Christian organization they have become.

No one leader can overseer an entire organization this large and even Moses was advised to set up governing bodies to help advise and overseer Israel. In fact Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy is filled with laws on governing civil, church and personal affairs and dividing the "nation" into territories (families/tribes).

This is a difficult transitional time for the Calvary Chapel movement and we should pray for them and continue encouraging them to form good national policies, oversight bodies and leaders for the 21st century. Please excuse any misspellings.

Colin Lamm said...

I agree with your sentiments based upon what the article seems to suggest. I do have to say, however, that I have become increasingly frustrated through my reading of Christianity Today because of the way it often does it's reporting. It often seems to reflect more what is in the author's mind than in what the individual(s) she / he is interviewing are truly saying.

I'm not saying that this is the case in this article - I'm just saying that I am sceptical. I have been interviewed a number of times for our local newspaper (and others) and have never (yes, I mean never) been satisfied that what I said (and meant) were accurately documented by the reporter.

The whole idea of not touching the Lord's annointed is a touchy one. I agree with your well-thought out feelings (and Wendy's incredible insights) on the matter. We do, however, have a lot to learn about David's hesitancy in knocking off Saul. In our current "nothing is sacred" climate we tend to automatically condemn our leaders rather than show to them any respect at all.

Whisky Prajer said...

You write, "Christians should have an almost Pavlovian response when any -- I mean ANY -- alleged authority uses such Scripture twisting language to validate their actions and attitudes."

C'est moi, mon ami. And I'm just a schmuck who makes the sandwiches and does the laundry. Thanks for the discomfiting post.

Joyce said...

I'm really not quite sure what to make of Chuck's comments without knowing the context in which they were made. For instance, the CT article just states "During the investigation for this article, Smith cautioned ..." That doesn't tell me anything of what led up to or triggered Smith's comments. I'm hoping the print article might reveal more (but I'm not holding my breath).

Wendi Kaiser said...

Regardless of when and how Pastor Chuck used that particular verse (unless he was making an illustration on what not to say when questioned about problems in the local church)it was an unfortunate response when CT interviewed him.

A diversity of co-leaders in a congregation that has the resources to support such a leadership team is a blessing to all. Alas, most churches are too small and financially extended to have 3 or more full time staff members. That is why I advocate a regional overseer with actual authority and national financial and ethical by-laws and oversight guidelines for church discipline and financial accountability.

Granted, if a pastor wants to color outside the lines he probably still will but the regional leaders along with the local church have real muscle to address and correct problems. Perhaps, that would keep the erring pastors from playing musical churches in the Calvary Chapel movement.