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Calvary Chapel San Diego

October 27th, 2004


Church Review
Scriptural View: 4/5
Beliefs: 2/5
Community: 3/5
Preaching: Expository
Worship: Saturday 6 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m., 9:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 6 p.m., Wednesday 7 p.m.

Website Review
Site Usability: 2/5
Site Design: 2/5
Site Content: 3/5

Review: Calvary Chapel San Diego (CCSD), as its name obviously suggests, is an off-shoot of the monolithic movement started in Costa Mesa California in the early 1970′s under the leadership of Pastor Chuck Smith. In San Diego alone, there are dozens of fellowships affiliated with Calvary Chapel. Because CCSD (and most other Calvary’s) model themselves after the Costa Mesa church, we will examine the movement as a whole and make a view particular observations about CCSD.

CCSD is one of the larger fellowships in San Diego having just moved into a new building in the booming Otay Ranch community of Chula Vista. The sprawling property, which covers an entire block, also houses a K-12 private Christian school called Calvary Christian Academy.

As with most Calvary Chapels, they should be commended for their high view of Scripture. Nearly everyone attending the church carries their own Bible and most are feverishly scribbling on notepads and marking the margins of their Bible during the sermon. Pastor Bryan Newberry faithfully teaches verse by verse and book by book through the Bible and it is clear that anyone attending CCSD continually is sure to be exposed to a regular diet of scripture.

What Calvary Chapel actually believes about the scriptures is quite a different matter, however. Instead of a clear statement of faith as to what they believe, CCSD chooses instead to hang its theological hat on the catch phrase “Simply Jesus!” While this may seem really spiritual and non-threatening on the surface, it belies what they really believe. Although CCSD (and all Calvary’s for that matter) claim to not put a strong emphasis on doctrine because it causes division, a careful examination of the movement’s teaching and writings tell a different story. In his book Calvary Chapel Distinctives (Word for Today Publishing, 2000), founding Pastor Chuck Smith writes: “In Calvary Chapel we value the teaching of the Word, and possess an open heart to the work of the Holy Spirit. This balance makes Calvary Chapel a distinct and uniquely blessed movement of God. (emphasis mine).” The bottom line is that it is precisely their doctrine that makes them a Calvary Chapel. Any deviation from their core doctrinal beliefs and a church can no longer be called a Calvary Chapel. Out of one side of their mouth, Calvary Chapel pleads for unity and non-division…out of the other side of their mouth, they view themselves as “a distinct and uniquely blessed movement of God.” Simply Jesus, huh? (Note: Pointing out distinctions in doctrine is NOT a bad thing. It is what churches should do. It is doctrinal distinctions that separate a truly biblical church from a cult. The problem we have with Calvary Chapel is that, under the guise of being spiritual, they claim to not do it. Their actions and writings prove otherwise.)

Another problem at CCSD, and most other large mega-churches, is a lack of pastoral oversight and community. The church keeps no formal membership which makes biblical church discipline non-existent. With its well-attended, multiple services, it is very likely that you will never see the same people very often, at least not often enough to build any strong relationships. And forget about actually knowing or meeting the pastor or elders (do they have elders?)! As with most large churches, the real ministering and discipleship is said to be done in small groups (or home fellowships). While small groups are important and a vital part of any church, it should NEVER be a substitute for the corporate gathering of God’s people and the oversight of godly shepherds. At CCSD, there is something to do every night of the week: married fellowships, single fellowships, drug/alcohol recovery groups, youth groups, teen groups, Spanish-speaking groups and on and on. Again, while small groups are good, is this the biblical model of community, everyone divided into groups and sub-groups based on age, gender, nationality or vice? It is conceivable that one could be very busy and active in the church and NOT experience true fellowship and community. Unfortunately, it is all too easy in a church this large to slip through the cracks…

While Calvary Chapel faithfully preaches through the Bible, it seems as if many of the scriptural admonitions about the importance of the local church are neglected or flat out ignored. Thus, the growth of an individual Christian in this environment is sure to be affected in the long run. A new Christian may find the church very helpful and learn a great deal about spiritual disciplines like prayer, bible study, evangelism and service. However, because of their extremely narrow and shortsighted doctrinal positions we can only give Calvary Chapel a half-hearted recommendation.

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