Calvary Chapel, one of the most influential evangelical movements, is facing a crisis over the accountability of its pastors and its disciplinary practices, reports Christianity Today magazine (March). Calvary Chapel pioneered the Jesus movement of the early 1970s and developed much of the contemporary style of worship in evangelicalism.
From his base in southern California, founder Chuck Smith expanded his ministry to the counterculture into a dynamic network of 1,300 fast-growing churches across the U.S. Calvary Chapel’s decentralized structure created minimal oversight while pastors were often endowed with most of the authority in the congregation. It is these two dynamics that are posing most of the problems for the organization, writes Rob Moll. Sexual misconduct is lightly disciplined, with the mother church in Santa Ana, Calif. sometimes hiring pastors who have been removed from their congregations for immorality.
Because of Calvary Chapel’s lax policy of restoring pastors who violate sexual standards, there have been charges (and lawsuits) that the church allows repeat offenders back into churches. Observers say that loyalty to Chuck Smith is all that is holding the association together and once the 79-year-old leader passes from the scene, Calvary Chapel will break up or become a more conventional denomination. The solution to the dilemma is being able to “institutionalize in a way that corrects problems yet still maintain the dynamism it had during the Jesus movement, reports Moll.
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