In 2011 I was honored to participate on a Q&A panel at a pastors conference in Mount Hermon, Northern California. My pastor Chuck Smith, a good friend David Guzik, and myself fielded questions through the moderator, John Snoderly. Recently, I listened to the Q&A ten years later, and it struck me that the questions are as relevant today as they were then. I’m posting the audio in hopes that it might help a pastor or two. At the close of the Q&A, David and I were able to pray for our pastor and his wife. An opportunity I’ll always cherish. – Sandy Adams
Listen to a podcast featuring Pastor Sandy regarding Calvary Chapel in the Deep South with Pastor Anthony Rea of Living Water Christian Fellowship in Dothan, AL.
Listen to a podcast featuring Pastor Sandy regarding Calvary Chapel in the Deep South with Pastor Anthony Rea of Living Water Christian Fellowship in Dothan, AL.
Calvary Chapel pastors are different.
Calvary Chapel pastors are the same.
And both statements are true. To prove my point just look at how we’re all reacting to the coronavirus…
On Sunday, March 15th our Calvary Chapel did online services. We decided to cooperate with the CDC and our governor to address what we considered a public health crisis.
That same Sunday a well-respected pastor in another part of the country told his Calvary Chapel they weren’t going to succumb to fear. His Calvary Chapel was open for worship! The implication was that those who went online had succumbed.
The week after, I saw where another Calvary Chapel pastor (again, one I highly respect) posted to the internet that the coronavirus was a leftist plot to take down our President.
A day later I was speaking to a fourth Calvary Chapel pastor who referred to the coronavirus as an apocalyptic plague – a judgment from God and a sure sign of the end times.
It might have been an hour later when I read an insightful article posted by another Calvary Chapel pastor that insisted the coronavirus was God’s way of removing our idols of sports and entertainment, and reminding the church that He is all that matters.
And still another pastor I know suggested that his Calvary Chapel’s forced online services might be creating in His people a deeper gratitude for their more normal worship times that they’ve long been taking for granted.
It was amazing, I wasn’t listening to different news channels, or to blogging pastors from different denominations. I was tuned to Calvary Chapel pastors only, and the result was six very different explanations for the same crisis.
Calvary Chapel is a group of pastors who hold to a set of distinctives. We consider them non-negotiable. I like this about us. I know where you stand and you know where I stand. And people who leave my Calvary Chapel and come to yours are not shocked by surprises. We agree on verse by verse teaching, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a balanced theology, servant leadership, an emphasis on God’s grace, and the pre-Trib rapture of the Church. These are principles that color us all with one brush. But on other subjects, like the coronavirus, we think differently and often radically so.
Calvary Chapel is not a monolithic movement. We share a set of commonalities, but we enjoy great freedom to think according to our own conscience and convictions. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes not so much. But I for one, appreciate the fact that we are free to be different. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “Find two people who always hold the same opinion, and you know that one of them is not thinking.”
As a Calvary Chapel pastor I expect my fellow pastors to be committed to the distinctives that have always characterized us as a movement. But just as importantly, I also expect you to think for yourself. Protestants have always held high the priesthood of the believer. You don’t lead me, and I don’t lead you. Jesus is our great High Priest, and it’s His desire to lead both you and me by His Holy Spirit. And what tests our belief in that doctrine is when our thoughts differ, and divergent opinions form. Do we respect or reject each other? A Scripture verse comes to mind, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
The coronavirus has upset our world and retooled our ministry the last few weeks. But it’s also got me thinking… six different explanations of the same crisis; and yet as I thought it through I saw some truth in each perspective. It reminded me that I’m happy to be part of a family of pastors made up of very diverse and colorful characters who think alike on vital points, but who see other things very differently. There’s another old saying, “Find two people who think alike on everything, and one of them is unnecessary.”
And there’s one more reason why this observation is so important. In the Bible the anointing of God’s Spirit isn’t restricted to the orthodox. God once spoke through a soothsayer named Balaam. Neither does the Holy Spirit limit His power to only the pure. Samson is the poster boy for a compromised vessel who was used mightily by God. But it seems to me that what the Spirit of God most often anoints is authenticity and sincerity. He chooses men with conviction, not who parrot the party line.
This is why I admire men who face a crisis, drop to their knees, and seek the will of God for their church, and then do what they’ve been told. This is the type of man people want to lead them, not a person who checks his inbox or calls human headquarters for instructions.
Pastor, here’s my encouragement for you in light of the coronavirus (as well as any other crisis). We may be moving into uncharted waters that none of us have ever navigated. Seek God for what He wants you and your church to be about in this time. Be wise, but climb your prayer mountain and don’t come down without a word from Him. Then when you get it, do it!
When most of us hear the call to go out and start a work for God He deals with most of us the same way He did Abraham. That is He doesn’t give all of the details at the beginning He simply says go! Why not give us more details? First of all I think it’s because He wants us to learn to trust Him a step at a time that we might grow in our faith. But secondly I believe if God showed us all the details at the beginning some of us might be tempted to ignore the call altogether! Why? Because although serving in the ministry is an honor and greatly rewarding, it can also be very difficult with many tests and trials along the way. Hence if God showed us everything we would face at the beginning we may not have the maturity or commitment to make it to the end. So what would be my encouragement to you when stepping out to answer the call of God? I will list several things below that have been helpful to me.
- First of all keep your priorities straight.
- It must be God, then family, then the ministry. And although this sounds obvious and most of us would say that is how we have our lives ordered, the realty is when things get busy it is very easy to get these priorities mixed up. And if you do, rest assured it will come back to haunt you at some point. Especially with your wife and kids!
- Secondly guard your expectations.
- I am not saying you shouldn’t be a man of faith or vision, but if you have expectations that are different from God’s in scope or timing you will be greatly discouraged when things don’t happen the way “you” envisioned. For example how quickly your study will grow and how big it will one day be. My advice would be to have no specific expectations in these areas and simply do your best to obey your call. Then leave the details up to God. This will guard you from being discouraged due to misplaced expectations, and it will also make it that much more exciting when God does something you didn’t expect!
- Commit for the long haul and know it will not be easy.
- If you know God has called you to go and told you where to go, then mentally commit for the long haul and regardless of how hard it gets. God never said it would be easy so don’t expect it to be. This doesn’t mean there will not be exciting times. But there will also be great tests and trials. And only a long-term commitment will see you through.
- Avoid the temptation to appeal to people’s flesh.
- All true pastors want their church to be alive and active in the things of the Lord, but sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that simply activity or fleshly generated excitement will do the trick. But we need to realize that this mindset is indeed a trick! The only fruitful activity a church can have is what the Holy Spirit leads. Hence guard yourself from being tempted to have a little less of the Word and a little bit more excitement. A healthy church can have both. That is we must continue to teach through the whole Bible so we end up with whole Christians, but as God leads we can also have fun in our ministries, outreach, and events. Just make sure you don’t leave the most important thing behind. Stay true to teaching the Word from cover to cover. God’s Word is the only way believers can truly grow, and it’s the only thing that will raise up mature disciples.
- Don’t be too quick to appoint leadership.
- As time goes by and the church grows there can be a temptation to quickly appoint leadership. The problem is if you don’t have time to truly evaluate the people you have you may put the wrong person in place. And trust me, it is a lot easier to put people in leadership than to remove them! Give time for a person to first be proven and you will avoid a lot of heartache.
- Let God lead you and not the people.
- You will soon find that most everyone has an opinion as to how the ministry should be done and even what they thinks you should do. Regardless of what God has said! Listen only to God! God has called you and you are His under shepherd of that flock. Not them. God needs leaders, not hirelings.
- Don’t be afraid to take steps of faith.
- This one sounds obvious but we must never forget that the Bible says without faith it is impossible to please God. And that means we should be men who are not afraid to take a venture of faith. That doesn’t mean we blinded push our will and try to build our own personal kingdom. But it does mean that as we pray and feel led of the Lord we must not be afraid to step out of the boat and into the water from time to time. You never know what God has planned until you step out. And who knows how many of us have missed great things that God had planned for us or our congregations because we never stepped out to see.
- Spend time with your staff or ministry leaders.
- One of the early mistakes I made was thinking my staff and leadership would be mature enough to stay on target without frequent meetings. But what I found was that even if they are mature, your staff and elders need “regular” and “frequent” meetings in order to keep relationships strong and loyal. Because I didn’t do this at the first I had some that I trusted be disloyal and turn against me. And while I am not making excuses for their sin, I also realized that I was partly to blame for not cultivating and maintaining good relationships. And this gave opportunity for the enemy to get in. I now meet with my staff at least once a week and my elders monthly. Since making this change I had not had another incident. Hence I strongly encourage you have regular meetings and contact with all your leadership.
I hope you find some of these ministry lessons helpful as you step out on your own in ministry. And I also hope you can learn from some of my mistakes over the years. But mostly I want you to know that although there have been many ups and downs over the years in the ministry I have seen God be faithful in all regards. So be encouraged, trust the Lord, and get going! Our time is short down here. So let’s let our motto come from the words of Jesus Himself Who said, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” It’s time for us to get busy and be about our Father’s business!
A core value I pray all Calvary Chapel pastors maintain is the principle of male leadership in the church and in the home. Yet I can hear someone say, “Oh, don’t be a stick in the mud. Can’t you see times are changing, what’s so wrong with a woman having a place of authority in the church?” Pastors today, and over the next few years – even Calvary Chapel pastors – are going to feel the pressure to compromise in this area.
Again, I can hear the complaints, “Even Augusta National Gold Club has admitted two female members. If a staid, venerable institution like Augusta National can adapt to the times, so can Calvary Chapel!” Well, such an accommodation may fly at the Masters, but it’s not par for the course in the Church. Our Master laid down a pattern. From the beginning of time, in the home and in the church, the Creator ordained for men to lead and women to follow.
When God created mankind, He did so male and female. The man and the woman were equal in value and status. They both were made in God’s image, and have a place of service in the Church! Women can occupy many different roles in the Body of Christ. However, “equal” does not mean “same.” God made us with distinction. He gave diverse roles to men and women.
Realize, masculinity and femininity are not just the outcome of our society’s nurturing, and educating, and the conditioning of the sexes. Male and female are the result of creation. Gender matters to God! Not only do the Biblical roles for male and female nurture and order society, they speak vital truths about God’s very nature.
From the first page of the Bible to the last, God reveals Himself in the masculine gender. He is never once called “God the Mother” or “God the Daughter.” He is always “God the Father” and “God the Son.” His people – Old Testament Israel, and the New Testament Church – are spoken of as feminine, but the Godhead is invariably portrayed as masculine. Throughout the Bible, God consistently uses gender to display His relationship with His people. Israel was God’s wife. The Church is the bride of Christ. This is why any violation of gender roles – any confusion between male and female – doesn’t just effect the individual and families involved, it mars the picture that God is painting of salvation. Marriage is a sacred snapshot. And God is serious about His wedding photos!
One of the most exciting spectacles in college football is performed by the Ohio State Buckeye Band. It’s called “Script Ohio.” It’s been a tradition since 1936. Before a packed stadium of 105,000 Buckeye fans the marching band spells the word “Ohio” on the field. The climax comes when one of the sousaphone players dots the “I”. He struts to a tuft of grass marked out by the drum major, then bows to the crowd. And if you’re watching this from the sidelines – from ground level – the band’s movements look chaotic and confusing. It’s only when you’re high in the bleachers, or in the blimp, that you see what is being spelled out on the field. And this is true with gender. We are actors in a divine drama. God has a role for women to play, and a role for men to play. By each gender’s faithfulness we spell out heavy, eternal, spiritual truths. But these roles can only be understood and appreciated from God’s vantage point. You have got to get above human logic.
Christians need to realize God has a purpose for the sexes that is embodied in the roles He has assigned to men and women, and far more than 105,000 fans are looking on. In discussing these matters with the Corinthians, Paul says we are providing lessons to the angels. The heavenly host sits in the bleachers, and watches the symbolism our relationships express on the field. When a husband loves his wife, or a man stands up to lead His church, he illustrates Christ’s care for His own. When a wife follows her husband’s leadership, or a sister in the church falls in line behind the pastor and elders, she teaches the world our attitude toward Christ. But when men don’t lead, or women refuse to let them by picking up the mantle of leadership themselves, it distorts and dilutes the Gospel message. How can we possibly think this no big deal to the Lord who saved us? God teaches big truths through gender!
And don’t let anyone tell you that the New Testament passages on male and female were meant only for ancient cultures. That’s patently false. Whenever the New Testament explains gender roles, it takes its readers back to Genesis. In 1 Timothy 2:12 when Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man…” he immediately references the parents of us all, Adam and Eve. Male leadership is a creation principle, not a cultural accommodation. Gender transcends culture. Here is the issue, are we truly Bible-driven, or do we just use the Bible at our own convenience, and to support our own agenda?
Several years ago Chuck Smith was asked a question about this subject on his call-in radio show, “Pastor’s Perspective.” Pastor Chuck’s response was simple: “All we have to stand upon is the Word of God… Either it’s God’s Word or it’s not God’s Word… It’s either our guide or it’s not our guide… I don’t have to agree with it, I just need to follow it.” It really is quite simple, do we trust God’s wisdom or man’s wisdom? The opinions of men are fleeting and fickle, but God’s Word is timeless. Hopefully, we will remain committed to God’s way, regardless of how politically incorrect it might become.
In the days ahead, I am sure our biblical convictions regarding gender will be questioned, and criticized, and tested. The more mired down the Church gets in this world, the less it sees life from heaven’s perspective. I hope and pray that we, as Calvary Chapel pastors, will hold fast to God’s Word, and may our tenacity be evident in our approach to gender roles in the home and in the church.
One of Calvary Chapel’s core values is our approach to teaching God’s Word. But my concern may not be what you think. Whether or not a pastor tackles his teaching verse by verse, chapter after chapter, book upon book is up to him. There are Calvary Chapel pastors who do it different ways at different times. Some pastors take big portions of Scripture, while others tackle smaller slices. Some read a text and organize their thoughts, while others apply their thoughts as they read the verses. Over the years I’ve done it differently myself.
I believe when it comes to Spirit-filled and Spirit-anointed Bible teaching, the last thing we want to do is to force a pastor into a man-made straight-jacket. Spirit-led and straight-jacket would seem to be at odds. Here’s what I think is the crucial issue: In the pastor’s heart, does he respect the Bible for what it truly is, and what it is able to do? If a pastor holds a high view of Scripture, he will handle the Bible properly.
All pastors of all churches should believe that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible in the original writings. I agree with the Jewish rabbis who expressed their lofty confidence in Scripture. “When Messiah comes, He will not only interpret the passages for us, He’ll interpret the very words. He’ll even interpret the letters. In fact, He will even interpret the spaces between the letters!” These rabbis believed that the Bible was God-breathed down to the very spaces between the letters. Like Jesus, they trusted every jot and every tittle.
And if you believe this about your Bible, you will realize that ALL the Bible – the whole enchilada – is important. Leviticus is as inspired as Luke, Ruth as God-given as Romans. Some folks have a “dalmatian” approach to Scripture. They pay attention to a spot here, and a spot there, and become the arbiter of what is important. I’ve heard some short-sighted pastors say that all Scripture is equally inspired, but not equally instructive… Says who? Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Notice, all Scripture is inspired and profitable. Calvary Chapel pastors believe that God’s people need the whole of God’s Word, not just part and parcel. And this has profound implications on a pastor and his teaching. This is why a pastor spends eight weeks in Leviticus, talking about menstrual bleeding, and what happens if a fungus gets into the walls of a house. Trust me, he would like to stay in the Gospel of John, or in Philippians (the joy-filled letter). That would be much easier! But if he believes “all Scripture” is both inspired and instructive, he will find a way to tackle it all. God speaks lessons to us that we need to know, not only in the breath-taking narratives of Mark, but also in the gnarly judgments of Isaiah and Ezekiel.
Yes, Old Testament Israel was an ancient, agrarian, eastern culture. We live in a modern, urban, western culture. It certainly takes a little effort to see how laws that related to a neighbor’s donkey impact us today. But it’s doable! In fact, as Paul says to Timothy, it’s “profitable!” In Acts 20, on the beach at Miletus, Paul breathed a sigh of relief when he said to the elders of Ephesus, “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul believed it was his job to preach it all!
And if we truly believe all Scripture to be inspired and profitable, we will let the Bible speak for itself, and trust it to set the agenda in our churches. Who is the pastor to pick and choose what his people need to hear? That’s God’s job. When does the patient prescribe his own medicine? We should teach the Bible in a consistent, systematic fashion that honors the text itself, and its divinely inspired structure; then trust God’s Spirit to apply God’s Word in miraculous and surprising ways. Doesn’t it make more sense to move through the Word of God as it was written, rather than just skipping a rock across its pages, and diving in where it drops? That’s too random. A divine Book deserves a more refined approach – one that honors the actual text.
Pastors, even Calvary Chapel pastors, can develop a Pandora-like approach to Scripture. Have you ever listened to music on Pandora? Type in an artist or song you like, and an algorithm creates a playlist of similar sounding music. As each song plays, Pandora allows you to “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” the song. This helps the algorithm further tailor your music to your “likes” and “dislikes.” And this is how some pastors treat the Bible. They read of God’s love, and click “like.” But the Bible’s stance on sexuality… oops, that’s a “thumbs down.” The parable of the prodigal son, a “like.” The slaughter of the Canaanites… oooh, a “thumbs down.” Hope for the hurting, a “like.” Sobriety and holiness, that’s another “thumbs down.” And as with a Pandora playlist, this shapes the pastor’s teaching. Rather than deal with “the whole counsel of God” he gravitates toward his own personal tastes. And the result is a church that’s a mile wide, and an inch deep, or a church that reflects the same carnalities as its pastor. No wonder Christians today are so anemic.
It may contradict the latest church growth strategy, and it may not accommodate modern man’s puny attention span, but I don’t think you will hear the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if you don’t turn off Pandora, and let the Bible speak for itself. Rather than use the Bible to foster my agenda – or as a launching pad for some feel-good thoughts – I want to teach the Bible, as is! I believe its truths are both timeless and timely. Pastors today often use the Bible to address what they think are people’s felt-needs, but that’s short-sighted. I believe we need the Bible to tell us what it is we really need in the first place. The Bible should set the agenda, and define the issues that matter to us.
Each week when I teach the Bible I let a lion out of its cage. And the Bible has proven its power over and over and over again. I have gotten into a text, at the time wondering how this is relevant to anyone, only to have a person explain to me afterwards the wonderful way God spoke to them. The Bible is a mighty sword in the hand of God! Pastor, trust it’s edge! It can renew a mind, transform a character, create a new outlook, break old habits, produce sensitivities, spawn self-discipline, and grow faith!
Psalm 119:9 asks the question, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” In other words, what can tame a young man’s lusts and corral his selfish passions? There are a thousand shortcuts… pray for him, cast out the demon, slay him in the Spirit, get him into an accountability group, hype him up with Christian music… But the Psalmist answers his own query, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed to the Word of God.” The Bible is our only real help and hope.
There is a reason dumbing down his approach to the Bible might become a temptation to a Calvary Chapel pastor – over time he can lose confidence. His church hasn’t grown at the rate he thought it would, so he trades Scripture for “cute and clever.” Pastors start doing feel-good, self-massaging sermons that seem less offensive – more palatable to modern tastes. To me, there is no more pathetic picture than a pastor who has lost trust in the Bible’s sufficiency. He is like a cop with no badge, or a sniper with no ammo. The pastor who no longer trusts in the potency of Scripture is like a sheared Samson wrapped in Philistine twine, unable to shake loose. The secret of his strength now eludes him. He has become prey to the enemy. Pastors, we believe in the Bible’s authority, now let’s also trust in its power. Keep teaching it with all your heart. Be a man who is mighty in the Scriptures!
A core value of Calvary Chapel pastors is our dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit. We can teach the Bible verse by verse, be accurate in our doctrine, snuff out heresies, cultivate a missions ministry, create a slick presentation on Sundays, have a children’s ministry that rivals Disneyland, hire U2 as our worship team, and even get Bill Gates to tithe! We can follow a manual, work a plan, and build a precision machine, and in the end it will all prove to be “wood, hay, and stubble” – chaff, not spiritual fruit! The Christian Church was never meant to be a highly-efficient organization, but a living, breathing organism. We are lungs for the breath of Jesus. We are hands for the heart of Jesus. We are a body for the mind of Jesus. The Lord is active today, through His Church, but His presence and power are conveyed by His Holy Spirit.
Never forget, Christianity is experiential. To know God and His fullness is the Christian’s birthright. This is the privilege of God’s grace! It is the joy of our soul. Psalm 34:8 baits us, even dares us, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” We can savor the Savior!
Christianity is rational, but it is also relational.
It is Scriptural, but it is also spiritual.
It is historical, but it is also mystical.
It is meaningful, but it is also miraculous.
For twenty years the great British preacher, Martin Lloyd-Jones, excelled at expositional Bible teaching. Many of us still read and enjoy his commentaries. Lloyd-Jones labored to instill right doctrine in the church, but toward the end of his ministry he realized that his teaching had only produced a dead orthodoxy. The preacher began to emphasize experiential faith. He talked about revival and the baptism of the Spirit. Like Martin Lloyd-Jones, Calvary Chapel pastors usually excel at Bible teaching, but we need to be reminded that the Trinity is not God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Bible. We need God’s Holy Spirit to empower us in all we do.
Don’t ignore a fundamental fact about the Calvary Chapel Movement: Calvary is a mountain, the mountain on which Jesus died. A chapel is a little church. And what happened on that mountain moved in our little church in powerful ways, but it was God’s Spirit that did the moving! And it’s the Holy Spirit that we need today! Whether our movement settles and fossilizes, or whether it keeps moving forward, hinges on our reliance on God’s Holy Spirit. If we get too sophisticated to risk a little weirdness happening in our midst, or too comfortable to disturb our religious routine, or too proud to relinquish some control over the church that is supposed to be God’s in the first place, then we will quench the moving of the Holy Spirit.
I am sure you have heard the familiar refrain, “A church that has the Word without the Spirit will dry up. A church that has the Spirit without the Word will blow up. But a church that has the Spirit working through the Word will grow up.” Let me add one more line, “And the church that is proud it has the Word, and pretends to have the Spirit, causes God to throw up.” The Lord promises to spew the lukewarm Christian (and Church) out of His mouth!
As Calvary Chapels, we certainly need to be Bible-driven, but a group that prides itself on its faithfulness to Scripture has to be careful our Bible Studies don’t crowd out the movement of the Holy Spirit. If we really want God’s Spirit to work among us we need to give Him time and room. God’s Word is like a fireplace. It is the frame and grate that keeps the fire from burning down the house. But a fireplace by itself is cold, hard, and worthless without a fire. All Calvary Chapels should pray for the fresh fire of the Holy Spirit!
2 Samuel 5 provides us a wonderful analogy: when the Philistine army heard David had replaced Saul as king of Israel, they tried to take advantage of the transition. Perhaps they could catch Israel with their guard down, and utilize the element of surprise. They deployed their troops to the Valley of Rephaim. When David heard about this, he prayed and inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?” God said, “Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into Your hand.” And true to God’s word, David routed the Philistines.
But the Philistines were slow learners. Again, they deployed their troops in the Valley of Rephaim. Their motto was, “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.” This was the same enemy, same theater of conflict, same strategy, same circumstances, same time frame. You would think King David’s strategy would be the same as before. But again he inquired of the Lord, and God answered him in verse 23, “You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees (or the wind shaking the treetops), then you shall advance quickly. For then the LORD will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.” Again, King David obeyed, but this time he followed a set of different orders. He circled behind the enemy and waited for the wind to rustle the trees, and again the Lord gave him victory. Throughout the Bible the wind is an idiom of the Holy Spirit. Like the wind, the Spirit moves as He pleases. Thus, the moral of this story is clear. If you want to win spiritual victories, build a strong church, and see God glorified, you’ll wait for the wind of the Holy Spirit.
We, as pastors, tend to look for a template to model, or a manual to follow. We even travel to conferences to discover the “secret formula.” There is only one problem: there is no secret formula! God refuses to be reduced to a formula, and He certainly doesn’t fit into a box! If you’re looking for a template or formula, instead of leaning on the Holy Spirit you’re trusting in man-made solutions. Remember the story of David, “the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind!” We should be depending on the voice and power of the Holy Spirit.
When Zerubbabel went to build the Temple in Jerusalem he was a lot like most Calvary Chapel pastors. He had little experience. He had a skeleton crew. He was starting with rubble. Yet God told him how he would get the job done, “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD.” A beautiful Temple was not the result of human muscle, or man’s genius. It wasn’t a matter of Zerubbabel working harder, or smarter. The key to his Temple building was the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, and the same is true of all God-glorifying church leadership.
I hope none of us are fooled. It is possible to be a Calvary Chapel pastor, and not be filled with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the baptism of the Spirit is a truth to which you’ve only paid lip service. Maybe your experience with the Holy Spirit has lapsed. We all need to make room and take time for the Holy Spirit to work in us and among us. Even if you have been filled with the Holy Spirit in the past, why not seek Him for a fresh filling today? In Luke 11:13 our Lord invited us, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” The good news is, receiving is as simple as asking.
One of Calvary Chapel’s core values is an eager anticipation of Jesus’ soon return for His Church. We look for the rapture! The “Pre-trib rapture” of the Church has been a lynchpin in Calvary Chapel’s history, and it will also be a key to our destiny.
For the first Calvary Chapel folks, many of whom were disillusioned young people, the pre-tribulation rapture was not just an eschatological theory. As it is referenced in the Scripture, it was our “blessed hope.” Pastor Chuck ministered to young people immersed in worldliness – in drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll. His belief that Jesus would snatch away His Church made us upwardly focused. His teaching on the rapture caused us to ready ourselves to meet Jesus! One of the passages that stirred us was 1 John 3:2, “Now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him.”
It was our pastor’s heart to wean us from the entrapments of this world, and point us to the next. Did he go overboard at times? Did he go too far plotting prophetic events on a futuristic timeline? Probably so. I remember in the early 1980s, Chuck suggested Israel was the fig tree of Matthew 24. It budded into a nation in 1948. A generation is forty years, and that generation will not pass away until the Lord returns. Forty years from 1948 was 1988, subtract seven years for the Great Tribulation, which meant the rapture would occur in 1981! Chuck seemed convinced. At the time, I realized he was making some assumptions – about the budding fig tree, and about a biblical generation – but I appreciated his zeal and enthusiasm in regards to seeing Jesus! No one can deny, that Pastor Chuck lived life on the edge of his seat. He modeled the expectancy the Bible teaches we all should have. Fault him for being overzealous if you like, but Chuck Smith longed for heaven. He “loved the Lord’s appearing…” and based on Paul’s promise to Timothy, for that he has received a “crown of righteousness.”
Yet I see pastors today, sitting back smugly, taking a noncommittal approach. “Well, the Bible isn’t really clear. How can we be certain? I’ll just teach the different theories and let our folks decide for themselves.” I once taught on the Pre-Trib rapture, and afterwards a man asked me when was I going to present the opposing point-of-view? I told him in love, “when hell freezes over.” It is every pastor’s job to preach what he believes to be God’s truth.
I had another friend who was fond of saying he was “Pan-trib.” Rather than Pre-trib or Post-trib, he was Pan-trib, or “however it pans out.” He thought he was being cute. I thought he was copping out! Please tell me, how is it more spiritual to hedge your bets, than it is to trumpet the truth that the risen Christ is coming in time and space to deliver the Church He loves from God’s wrath? What most inspires the faith of your people – a pastor who is unsure, or one who is looking for Jesus?
Sure, there is a lot we do not know about Jesus’ coming, but there are some things we do know:
- We know He is coming! He will snatch away His church!
- His return is eminent – that is, it can happen at any moment.
- Nothing else needs to occur prophetically before we see Jesus.
- His coming will take place when people least expect it; when life on earth is business as usual.
- We know it is God’s heart to deliver His people from His wrath.
We actually know quite a bit, and when I put those certainties together, I can confidently conclude that the Bible teaches a Pre-tribulation rapture of the Church!
Yes, there’s a verse, a single verse, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition…” People read this verse and assume the rapture cannot come until the apostasy and Antichrist appear, which puts the Church in the midst of the Great Tribulation. Yet be careful about making assumptions. People have taken “that Day” (“the day of Christ” in verse 2) to mean the rapture. But it could be a synonym for “the day of the Lord” (that’s how it is translated in the New American Standard Version). “The day of the Lord” is the period of time when God judges this evil world. In that case, the verse teaches that God’s fierce judgments will not begin until the apostasy and Antichrist appear. The implication is that since the Thessalonians had seen neither, they knew the rapture had not occurred, since it comes first! In addition, the phrase “falling away” also has multiple definitions. It literally means “a departure.” Some people assume that it refers to “a departure from the faith,” but Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest suggests that it could mean, “the departure of the church, the rapture.” If that is so, God’s judgments will not come down until the Church goes up!
My purpose here is not to parse 2 Thessalonians 2:3. It is an admittedly difficult passage that can be interpreted in various ways. But 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is just one verse in a New Testament that teaches from start to finish that the return of Christ and the rapture of His Church will be a surprise! And it cannot possibly be a surprise if the Antichrist appears first. We are called to look for Jesus Christ, not the Antichrist! As to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, when a verse is difficult, we should read it through the lens of the rest of the New Testament, not read the rest of the New Testament through the lens of a difficult verse.
Realize, the Bible speaks of two types of tribulation. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation…” Our world was hostile to Christ, and if you follow Him you should expect it to be hostile to you. The world inflicts tribulation on the Church. But there is also a “Great Tribulation” that God will bring on this evil world. And throughout the New Testament, God makes promises that He will spare the Church this judgment. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 is such a verse. Paul tells us, “to wait for (God’s) Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Christians are subject to this world’s tribulation, but spared God’s tribulation on the world.
Have you read Revelation 6-19 and the cataclysmic judgments that will rock this planet? Entire populations will starve and die. Demons will be unleashed to torment mankind. Jesus will pelt the Earth with huge hailstones. According to God’s Law, the penalty for blasphemy is death by stoning. That is the judgment Jesus exacts on the whole Earth. Do you really believe He will subject His faithful Bride to what He reserves for blasphemers? Years ago, actress Farrah Fawcett starred in a movie about a battered wife. There were scenes that showed her beaten black and blue. You looked at her and wondered what animal would do this to his bride? But realize, if believers survive the Great Tribulation, they are bound to be battered. And you have to ask, “do you really think this is how the Lord is going to treat His Bride?” Of course not! Jesus died to save and sanctify His Bride, not to inflict upon her a beating. In fact, He took THE beating so we could be healed! The world might rough us up, but such harsh treatment doesn’t come from the hands of Jesus! That is not the Lord we serve.
This is why I believe the Pre-tribulation rapture is non-negotiable for Calvary Chapel pastors. If you have not thought deeply about this, you might categorize the rapture as an elective doctrine, while issues like the deity of Christ, justification by faith, and the inspiration of the Bible are the core curriculum. However, I suggest that elective status does not do the rapture justice. The Pre-Tribulational rapture is vital because of what it infers about the Savior’s heart for His Church. If, for some reason, you are a pastor who struggles with the timing of the rapture, we can still be friends. We are certainly brothers, and can enjoy each other’s fellowship. But if you pastor a Calvary Chapel, you will deny that church an important part of their identity and emphasis.