When A Movement Becomes An Institution: Dr. Duane W.H. Arnold PhD
A week or so back, when Michael Newnham of the Phoenix Preacher revealed a split taking place between Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and much, although not all, of the Calvary Chapel Association, I was by turns saddened and upset.
It appears from the flurry of comments, postings and opinions offered across the internet, that I am not alone. When I look at my own reaction, however, I recognize that most people would consider it to be irrational. I’ve not set foot into a Calvary Chapel for close to thirty years. The last time I spoke with Chuck Smith was in the 1970s. To my knowledge, I’ve never met Brian Brodersen. My acquaintance with some few other Calvary Chapel pastors date from almost four decades ago. As I stated in one posted comment, “I don’t have a dog in the hunt”. Yet, the news and the turmoil affected me nonetheless. I needed to ask myself the question, “Why?”
After some bit of prayer and reflection, I think I might have an answer; or at least an answer for me.
There were many strands of influence and activity that would constitute what became known as the Jesus Movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. I believe, however, that the epicenter of the movement was Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa under the pastoral guidance of Chuck Smith. This is not to discount what was taking place in the American midwest or northeast, or even closer to home, in Hollywood. It is simply to say that much of what we know of the movement had its start at CCCM. The taking on of Lonnie Frisbee as an evangelist, the encouragement given to John Higgins to create Christian communes, the Saturday night concerts and the creation of Maranatha! Music, the midweek Bible studies and so much more, came out of CCCM. In the day, whether you were a Calvary Chapel devotee or not, you knew all about them. Chuck’s Bible studies on cassette tapes made their way across the country and eventually around the world. In Oregon communes, The Everlastin’ Living Jesus Music Concert, was placed on turntables and we began to hear music by Love Song and Children of the Day. The “beach baptisms” made it into the national media. In a remarkably short time the movement spread worldwide and CCCM was at its heart.
As they say, however, “that was then, this is now”.
All throughout Church history, movements morph into institutions. What had started in first century Judea as a loosely knit group of disciples and preachers had, by the end of that first hundred years, become recognizable organized communities with a system of pastoral oversight. In the fourth century, what had started with hermits in the deserts of Egypt became transformed into monastic communities. In the thirteenth century, a rich young man named Francis gave away all his possessions to become an itinerant preacher, pledging all his followers to poverty. Within three decades, the Franciscans had become a powerful organization within the Church, eventually owning their own churches, monastic establishments and, eventually, even universities. Similar observations could be made of various Reformation movements, the Methodist societies, or even the Tractarians. All eventually became institutional in nature.
Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and, whether they recognize it or not, the Calvary Chapel Association, has followed this same path.
It is the realization that this has now become formalized that, I believe, has caused so much distress and sadness. The distress and sadness is not about the “Calvary Chapel distinctives”, or the verse by verse exposition of all 66 books of the Bible, or who will sit on the platform with whom, or whether Brian Brodersen wears a suit or tie, or whether Chuck Smith set up a foolproof succession plan. It is not even the concerns (valid or not) about accountability, or salaries or nepotism. To be frank, these are always concerns within any institutional environment. No, it is the realization that the movement which set all this in motion is over and the missives making their way between CCCM and the Association merely confirm its demise.
It is not the purpose of this essay to assign blame or to opine as to who is right or wrong. Instead, it is to simply point out the reality of what has happened and to recognize that there is no going back. If you doubt this, then consider the following scenario – an outrageous, charismatic nineteen year-old with a hipster beard and lots of ink shows up at the home of the pastor of Calvary Chapel Wherever saying he has a call to be an evangelist. The young man’s background includes drugs and a questionable sexual orientation. He’s already married and he holds a different view of charismatic gifts than that of the pastor… and, after prayer, the forty-one year old pastor of Calvary Chapel Wherever gives the young man a leadership position in the church outraging and offending much of his board. Chuck Smith did this very thing in the day with Lonnie Frisbee, but I wouldn’t look for it to happen any time soon at either CCCM or, indeed, in any of the CC Association churches.
So, let us mourn the formal end of the Jesus Movement. Let us send all best wishes and prayers to Brian and those at CCCM as they enter a new chapter in their history. Let us as well keep the churches of the Calvary Chapel Association in our prayers and hope that Chuck Smith will be remembered with love and great affection, but not set upon a pedestal.
Finally, let us pray that another movement of the Holy Spirit will take place among us once again and lead us to places and work yet unknown in our own day and time.
Duane W.H. Arnold