There is one core value shared among Calvary Chapels that, to me, is more important than any other. It is truly high and holy ground. It should be our coat-of-arms – the banner over us that I hope will flap in the breeze forever. When Calvary Chapel becomes a footnote on the pages of church history, I hope it is for this that we are most remembered… that we lived out God’s grace!
Notice, I didn’t just say “believed in God’s grace.” Every church I attended before I found Calvary Chapel – and there were plenty – had “grace” as a line on the doctrinal statement. But it took me going all the way across the country to see God’s grace in action. And grace is a lot more amazing when you see it lived out than it is when you are just singing or reading about it.
When I walked into Calvary Chapel for the first time, I saw God’s grace in 3D. The people oozed God’s acceptance. You were loved “just as you are, and right where you’re at.” Nothing mattered about you… not how you looked, or dressed, or groomed. Not where you went to school, or if you went to school, if you had a job, what your attitude was toward the war, your politics, or your denominational affiliation. The only thing that mattered was whether or not you loved Jesus! And it was not that people were opinion-less on other subjects. It was just that Jesus was everything! Everyone was caught up in the fact that, despite the evil they had done, the rebellion they had shown, and the perversions they had thought, God in Christ was still willing to love them, forgive them, and make them His own. His grace humbled and happy-ed me immensely.
Grace has been defined as, “love without a catch.” God doesn’t love us if we do this or that, or because we are all this or all that. He just loves us, no strings attached. Grace is love that is on the house! Romans 5:8 explains when God first started loving you: “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Before you and I gave God the time of day, God was thinking good, even loving thoughts about us. And the Christians I met at Calvary Chapel dared to treat others the same way that God treated them.
During a conference of British theologians, several clergy were discussing what, if any, religious belief was unique to Christianity. They struggled for answers. One man suggested the incarnation, but everyone noted that several religions had stories of gods appearing in human form. Another man mentioned the resurrection, but again examples were given of other religions that had alleged returns from the dead. The conversation turned into quite a heated debate. That’s when C.S. Lewis strolled by, and asked what the ruckus was all about. The group told him they were discussing the unique contribution of the Christian faith to the world. Lewis responded in a rather matter-of-fact tone, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace!” And indeed it is!
In his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”, author Phillip Yancey writes, “The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law – each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.” Here is one of the reasons I am so convinced the Bible, and the Christian Gospel, come from God: never in a million, zillion years would performance-prone humans come up with the concept of grace. Max Lucado writes, “I have never been surprised by God’s judgment, but I am still stunned by His grace.” I could not agree more!
And here is where we come in. Just as grace was Christianity’s unique contribution to the world, grace can also be the special contribution that you and your Calvary Chapel can make to your community. In the part of the country where I come from, every city needs an outpost of God’s grace. In the Deep South, legalism has set up shop on every corner. Most churches spout grace from the pulpit, but in reality they expect you to toe the line, and fall in step. I would imagine it is the same wherever you find religious folks. I have been to churches that preach grace, but live law. Of course, it is not the Law of Moses they adhere to – it is their own law (rules laid down by the church brass), but it works the same way. It creates a performance-based acceptance, you earn your place by how you measure up.
Pastor, is the emphasis of your ministry and preaching try or trust?Is it you do or He did? Is it my effort or His Spirit? After you preach, do people leave whipped or equipped? Have you only reminded them of what they should be doing, yet lack the power to do? Or, is your teaching laced with God’s grace? Let’s turn their eyes toward Jesus, and remind them nothing is impossible with God and His amazing grace!
Imagine, starting a church in your town that revels in God’s grace, and in its manifold possibilities! You might have so many folks come you won’t be able to house them all! Chuck Smith started such a church – a church that majored on grace – and it spread around the world.
Bible teacher, Warren Wiersbe, has traveled extensively among churches all across North America, and he made the following observation, “There are Gospel-preaching churches that have legalistic tendencies and keep their members immature, guilty, afraid. They spend a great deal of time dealing with externals… they exalt standards and denounce sin, but fail to magnify the Lord Jesus. Sad to say, in some New Testament churches we have an Old Testament ministry.” I pray that statement is never made of a Calvary Chapel, “they call themselves a New Testament church, but have an Old Testament emphasis and ministry.”
Here’s a great strategy for church growth… Make your church a grace place! Guard against the legalists (especially the one in you). Run off “the Judaizers” when they try to crash the party that God, in His grace, has thrown for repentant sinners. Forgive and forget, and forgive again. Seek to pardon people like God has pardoned you!
It reminds me of the pastor who reached out and showed grace to a particularly vile sinner – a real scoundrel in the community. One of the church members reprimanded him, “Pastor, that fellow does not deserve grace.” The pastor answered, “If he deserved it, it would not be grace.” I believe the grace of God is the Calvary Chapel birthmark. If we stay humble, and repentant, grace will be the value we hold at all costs.