Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join a Calvary Chapel

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OK ecclesiastical purists, I know that Calvary Chapel isn’t a denomination, but it’s sort of like a denomination in America, and it has played a pretty big role in the evangelical movement as a whole. Speaking personally, a Calvary Chapel played a huge role in my early days as a Christian, so when minister, writer, and jack of all trades Trip Kimball offered to share what he loves about Calvary Chapel, I couldn’t say no on a technicality. Here’s what Trip loves about his “denomination”:


Calvary Chapel—Past and Present

A charismatic young man, with long hair and a full beard, exhorted us to believe in Jesus and become His followers. He resembled the iconic picture of Jesus during the seventies—a quasi-hippie revolutionary.

After prayer, those who believed would follow this young persuasive leader to a back room for more prayer and instruction. I didn’t follow that night. I had questions, lots of questions.

This is my earliest memory of Calvary Chapel and the Jesus Movement of the late sixties. It crystallizes that era and the birth of what became the Calvary Chapel Association. Even my refusal to follow because of questions epitomizes the Jesus Movement and my own faith journey.

A little history

We’re not a denomination, at least that’s what we’ve claimed for more than 45 years. Many of us joke that we are a non-denominational denomination. Our official belief for years stated—

We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their overemphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.

It’s hard to understand Calvary Chapel without knowing its origins.

The era was the mid-sixties and early seventies. Anti-war demonstrations, love-ins, psychedelic drugs, eastern religion and philosophy, the Beatles and Bob Dylan provided a back drop for what became a national movement. Calvary Chapel played a big part in the west coast phase of the Jesus Movement.

What set Calvary Chapel apart was an emphasis on teaching the Bible and what became known as contemporary praise and worship. Hour long Bible studies were common, as young people with beards, beads, and bell bottoms sat on the floor. The music was a blend of folk and rock, but always about Jesus.

The one-way sign—pointing a finger towards heaven—symbolized our focus. It was always about Jesus.

An eclectic mix

The founding pastor, Chuck Smith, was a Four Square pastor for many years before starting with a group of twenty-five people in a borrowed church building. It went from a small group to thousands—a small church on the edge of town, to a circus tent, to its present facility in Santa Ana, CA.

Pastor Chuck was a Bible teacher first and foremost, with a love for biblical prophecy. It was a mix of old school Christianity that merged with the hippie culture of the time. His wife Kay encouraged him to welcome and reach out to these hippies who were lost and wandering. His background was traditional Pentecostal, and most of the young people had little to no church background.

Chuck presided over the movement with his genuine, gracious, fatherly smile. His emphasis was always on God’s Word and the grace of God, which characterized the Calvary Chapel movement.

Chuck’s simple form of personal discipleship transferred easily to those who remained committed beyond the early days of revival. It was natural and grounded in biblical truth. This is an important reason why I found a home in Calvary Chapel.

A developing theology

Calvary Chapel is still too young, as church movements go, to have a well-developed theology. It’s still in the development stage. This is especially true following Pastor Chuck’s death last year. His son-in-law, Brian Broderson, has a vision to reach the present young generation, so changes will come, as he settles into the role of pastoring Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa.

But Brian is one of several other pastors who form a Leadership Council. Each church is autonomous, which has its pluses and minuses. Growth pains will come, just as there have been bumps along the way. Now it must survive the passing of its founder.

One of those bumps was the breaking off of the Vineyard fellowships during the 1980’s. An over-compensation to the Vineyard movement resulted in more restrictive and conservative attitudes towards worship, prayer, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In recent years, I recall Chuck appealing to pastors during conferences to return to a more Spirit-led form of ministry, as he taught out of Galatians 3:1-3. There are other difficulties over the years, but the core elements of the early years continue to hold firm.

What do I love about Calvary Chapel?

My wife and I were baptized in the Pacific Ocean at Pirates Cove (in So Cal). We fellowshipped and served at a young age during the little chapel and tent days (1971-73). Things were simple then. We loved and worshiped Jesus, and our life reflected this simplicity.

These are the things we embraced then and now—

  • A personal relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior
  • Teaching through all of God’s Word, the Bible
  • Worship focused on Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit
  • Relational evangelism, discipleship, and service

Is this a little too simple? Perhaps, but it’s how we came to faith more than forty years ago, and how we follow Jesus today.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

TK1-3.09-smTrip has cleaned toilets and painted houses for a living, and planted a church in 1978. He and his wife moved to in the Philippines in 1990, and established a ministry for abandoned babies and children, and abused girls. He also developed a Bible school and training center for leaders in the Philippines.

In 2012, Trip published, The Mystery of the Gospel, born out of his ministry time in the Philippines. He’s also developed discussion-based Bible studies connected to his workbook on an inductive approach to Bible study.

He is currently involved in mentoring a few men and leading several small group studies, while working a couple part-time jobs and posting online at–

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.




One more thing from Ed…

The eBook version of A Christian Survival Guide will be on sale for $.99 on most major eBook sites until January 18th, 2015. 

3 thoughts on “Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join a Calvary Chapel

  1. Ed, I didn’t look around your site to check, but have you considered an entry for “Denomination Derby: Why You Should Not Join a Church”, with an entry from someone who is free-ranging the church, or “Why You Should Join an Organic Church”, with an entry from someone in the organic church movement?


    1. Thanks for the suggestions! I’m all in favor of a simple church or house church writer joining in. I’m not sticking to the label “denomination” in a pure sense for the series. However, the series is sort of an alternative to the legion posts about why people are leaving the church or don’t want to go to church any more. I mean, heck, I wrote a bunch of those posts myself at one time. I mainly want to focus on what people love about their tribes, so to speak. I understand that there are seasons to step out of a church in order to heal or to get one’s bearings, but this series is intended to help people find a healthy point of reentry into community if possible.


      1. I appreciate the motivation behind the series. And, I’m a recovering complainer myself. I think it would be cool to include a positive presentation of the perspective ‘apart from the organizations’, to give one more place to find engagement with the church. Perhaps I’ll write something up and see what you think.

        Also, it would be very interesting at some point to scale through all of the posts in the series to see where there is convergence of thinking – what the common denominators of preference are, if there are any significant ones.


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