Social Network Links
Powered by Squarespace
Search the Riddleblog
"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
« Your Blitz is on the Fritz! | Main | Where Did Those Eleven Years Go? »

The Moses Model Revisited -- Why Biblical Church Government Matters

chucksmith.jpgChristianity Today has posted yet another sad story on the internal troubles at Calvary Chapel.  Click here: Day of Reckoning | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.  I dealt with the "Moses Model of ministry" a while back, when these same issues surfaced previously.  Click here: Riddleblog - The Latest Post - The "Moses Model" of Ministry Backfires . . .

I post this link not because I am glad that this sorry saga continues.  On the contrary, there is nothing mentioned in the CT article in regards to the failings and sins of ministers and church leaders at Calvary, which cannot also be found in Reformed and Presbyterian churches.  I've heard of (or witnessed first-hand) Reformed ministers commit all kinds of public sins.  I've seen them arrested and tried.  I've seen them fall into adultery.  I've seen them do most everything mentioned in the CT article. 

But I've also witnessed how their churches disciplined them.  Therefore, this is not a post about how bad "they" are (Calvary), and how much "better" we are (the Reformed/Presbyterian churches). Rather, this is a post about the importance of biblical church government. 

There is a reason why the Belgic Confession (the confession of faith of the Reformed Churches) devotes six entire articles (27-32) to the subject of church government (Click here: Christ Reformed Church: The Belgic Confession).  There is a vast amount of biblical teaching on church government which needs to be summarized and confessed, teaching which once affirmed and confessed, will spare God's people from the very thing going on at Calvary as described by CT. 

The New Testament devotes a great deal of attention to the subject of what constitutes a true church as well as who is a true Christian (summarized in article 29).  The New Testament speaks of the catholicity (or universality) of the church (summarized in article 27), as well as the necessity of church membership and the responsibilities of church members (summarized in article 28).  The New Testament carefully describes how the church is to be governed, and lists both the duties and qualifications of the officers which govern the church (ministers, elders, deacons--as summarized in article 30).  The New Testament tell us how ministers are to be called, and supervised, and of what their duties consist (article 31).  Then, finally, the New Testament instructs us how our churches are to exercise church discipline over erring members and especially church officers (article 32).

I know that many people find ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) boring.  I've seen people's eyes glaze over when the topic is even mentioned.  But this is an important aspect of biblical teaching and we neglect it to our peril.

So, for those of you still in Calvary, or similar churches, or for those of you struggling to understand how things like this can happen, please realize that the New Testament doesn't blush at the sins of Christians or of Christian leaders.  It speaks of such sinners being restored and reconciled after being disciplined.  There is clear instruction about how to govern our churches, and what to do when ministers fall into public sin or create scandal.  Sadly, that teaching is not found nor practiced at Calvary Chapel.  The "Moses Model" does not reflect the New Testament's teaching about ministers and their accountability to their fellow elders.

My advice:  please consider the Reformed confessions and the numerous verses they summarize.  There is a way out of this continuing problem--biblical (Presbyterian/Reformed) church government!

Reader Comments (22)

I and those like me (those who left calvary chapel for the reformed church) have waited with dismal foreboding for this moment. I for one saw this coming a long time ago yet always, perhaps fancifully, hoped that they would turn from within towards right doctrine and practice. It is a shame that it had to come to this, yet perhaps this is the sort of public rebuke that might shake the house enough for people to realize that there is something wrong with the foundation. I am sad yet hopeful that those that I once associated with would come to realize that much of this did not have to occur if the scriptures were simply followed.

Now isn't that odd, a reformed christian wanting evangelicals to take the bible for what it says.
February 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAbennett

Thank you for this timely note.

I was greatly blessed by my involvement with Calvary Chapel in the mid 80's. For theological reasons I left to join a confessionally Reformed Church (I'm in the OPC), but I don't want to minimize the numerous positive aspects of those churches associated with Calvary Chapel. Let me make just two observations:

1. Calvary Chapel did a better job at reaching out to the lost than any Reformed Church that I have ever been a part of.
2. The reasons why Chuck Smith adopted the model of church government that he did are sadly quite real. I fully agree with you that it is never right to abandon Biblical ecclesiology - and that negative consequences inevitably follow. Yet, it would be helpful for us Calvinists to address the extent to which our focus on structure and procedure impedes our faithfulness to the mission Christ has given to us. Discipling the nations is, from a human perspective, a rather risky business. Most committees are by nature 'risk averse' with more concern about not doing something wrong than trusting God to do something great. The current struggles being faced by Calvary Chapel churches does present us with an opportunity to celebrate Biblical ecclesiology; but it should also cause us to ask why a single Bible study grew into a network of churches that is more than 10 times the size of the OPC. We shouln't answer that question by assuming that their growth was entirely due to compromises with the culture.

Your brother in Christ,

February 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDavid A Booth
We can thank Chuck Smith for opening the door to aberrant teachers like Lonnie Frisbee and John Wimber; shipwrecking the faith of many...

David...if you wonder why Calvary's (or Vineyard's for that matter) got so big glance over to Rick Warren's movement. They are the same system yet Warrenism has taken things to an even lower level.

Celebrity,pastors, emphasizing "love" over truth.

February 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
David's charge against the OPC and other reformed churches is somewhat true. Some in these churches maintain an intellectual arrogance about their doctrine and remain sequestered in their individual churches and denominations. A few churches in my local area come immediately to mind.

On the other hand, Robin's point is also true. I've visited a couple Calvary churches and Bible studies. Many at these churches are just there for cultural or social reasons and are simply 'dating the church' to borrow a term. Many there can't actually articulate the Gospel or the doctrine of justification, and you have to wonder what, if anything, they believe.

The main problem, I think, is 2 Tim 4:3.
February 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterwalt

I don't think your claim about Calvary Chapel is entirely true. I love the OPC, it is my church home. Yet, one of the regrettable things about our denomination is that whenever we see someone else growing rapidly we assume that it must be because of unfaithfulness. This isn't fair. At least when I was with Calvary Chapel 20 years ago, we spent a great deal of effort trying to actually reach the lost. Further, our pastor regularly taught sermons that were an hour long - which hardly reflects the "seeker sensitive" approach adopted by other churches.

I freely grant that there are problems with many Calvary Chapels (after all, I chose to leave them). I am merely suggesting, that we have things to learn from Calvary Chapel which might be more helpful for the Church than simply pointing out where they have gone wrong.

In Christ,

February 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDavid A Booth
Anybody remember hearing stories of C. Van Til standing on the street corner sharing Christ? or witnessing to the nuns who lived near him? Granted, the normal means which Christ uses to bring the lost to himself is through the means of word and sacrament within the Church but it sure would be nice to hear of some this in today's reformed church. Just a thought.
February 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbil
"some of this" that is, people boldly sharing christ with their neighbors and friends. sorry for the odd wording.
February 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbil

What do you mean by word and 'sacrament'.

People are saved by word and spirit working together. The last person of whom I heard being converted was someone who was from an unbelieving family, who simply read the word - was convicted of his need of salvation from sin, repented and believed - he then sort out Christian church to join to. There was nobody preaching to him, no vision, no tract .. he wasn't even with a christian at all. (In fact now that I think about it - the last 3 people whom I have heard of who became christians - all did so through same means).
February 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commentergracevet
word and sacrament - the means of grace. Faith comes through hearing the word preached and that faith is confirmed in the sacraments. Sorry if we're getting too off topic here.
February 18, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbil
Back to topic...

Tragic dangers in sects like Calvary Chapel include ignorance of what the New Testament teaches about church government; self-imposed blindness due to fragmented reading of Scripture; intellectual bigotry; scorning the whole of Church History (and the saints gone before.)

Pastor Riddlebarger is right. How precious the historic confessions are! They do not supplant Holy Scripture, but are a sign Jesus Christ has not failed in his promise to protect his church via the skills of faithful men upholding his Word.

As for "signs" from God, why can't written documents be signs? Why are signs of God's work always connected to emotional expression or silly subjective "healings"? If God ordained the Bible to be His special revelatory sign, isn't it consistent that God would build on it (NOT add to it) via written affirmations to the Bible?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Calvary Chapel's dark moment could be turned to good by former Calvaryites-turned-Reformed, reaching-out with the confessions in reiteration to what the Bible means?
February 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
Thanks for alerting us to this, Kim.

Hey folks, listen to what I was told today.

A large church in our town has undertaken a large building project. Their sales pitch to the community and other churches members is that they are non-denominational. That's right, they won't be bogged down with church courts, what they will have is body life.

Well, someone showed up at our church today, having left the large church which is the "happenin' church in town", where they sing all the praise choruses, have all the programs for adults and children, and are building a huge new buidling.

Anyway, when the couple told they had departed, I decided, why not ask directly. So I did. Seems the pastor of the growing church for young adults, is spending alot of time lately preaching about money. The pressure is being placed on the church to tithe [which in itself is of course not asking too much].

However, get this, the final straw for them, was when the pastor recently warned the church that if they didn't tithe to that church, they would be under a curse, and their children might be under that curse as well.

Yes sir, non-denominational, free from denominational courts, free from confessions and creeds, no creed but Jesus... that is until we need more money to meet the bills. Then we have the freedom to scare you and your children with threats of a curse from God...

Yes, Kim, biblical church government does matter... thanks.
February 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterIvan
I'm going through training to be a Deacon at my church, and some of the things we have to order (which I just did today) is the Book of Church Order and the Westminster Standards. So I will be learning all about church government and discipline and I'm ready to get into it.
February 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTyler
While some churches that are weak in church givernment may be strong in other areas, this should not be taken as license to disregard or downplay ecclesiology--it's all the more reason to stress its importance.

If our church governments are functioning properly then we ought to be doing all things well. We need to look at oursleves and check that out first, but still teach & practice biblical ecclesiology. (Also remembering it is not a gospel essential--those who differ are still our brothers & sisters if we ghold to the same gospel.)
February 18, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterpilgrim
I can say that Calvary Chapel has been a help to me early in my Christian walk. I see why we need a church government and why it is so important.

Take foursquare churches who well not have elders. The pastors are overworked and can not properly lead in their own homes for they work 50 to 60 hours a week.

I am saddened by the article as most of it is the result of having leaders without accountability. No matter how good the Pastor is we are all have the sin nature. It does not surprise me that they have so much sexual sin.

I saw at the end of Set Free with Pastor Phil Augliar the same thing. Many people reported the sexual sins which the pastor encouraged as well as finical questions as well. When the elders decided to question the pastor he closed that branch of the church down.

He now meets if Costa Mesa where he owns a bar and has church there. Not family friendly and the pastor has full control of his church.

It is a shame that these and other churches do not obey scripture and allow for elders and decants as they help the pastor and congregation.
February 19, 2007 | Unregistered Commentertiminator
All I listened to in socal was kwve, which is essentially Calvary's own broadcast station. So, there are a lot of pastors I used to listen to on that station that were and are calvary affiliated. So I, too, have a lot to thank them for over the years. But I have even more to thank whi for for sorting my brain out after being saturated with calvary's theology for so long.
February 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTyler
i am with robin and riddlebarger. the HS, through the preaching of the gospel, creates faith and the sacraments affirm faith.

and i have never quite grasped why so many reformed or broad confessionalists get so apologetic for their seemingly "bad" track record in so-called "reaching out." this term seems always defined by the pietistic and evangelical impulses in cult and culture. "standing on street corners" simply does not comport with a confessional ethic, no matter what stalwart did it.

the question behind such phraseology as "reaching out" are getting to notions of perpetuance, a thing all religious and non- groups do; it is proper to ask how do we perpetuate the faith. however, a confessional ethic emphasizes nurturance, while pietistic one knows getting fresh meat, so to speak. the confessional ethic is proper both biblically and naturally. go to any group in cult and culture and one will see adults with their children. most are there because of a natural passing down tendency. most heads in pews are there because it's been "all in the family."

so why we confessionalists think we have to ape the pietistic evangelicals gets, to me, a bit tedious and sometimes embarrassing. no, we don't have anything to apologize. i am not one ounce of remorse for the fact that i put all my energy into following up on baptismal vows to instruct my covenant children in the faith and prepare them to join the rest of the covenant community at the Table--not by how many tracks i dole out or awkwardly force every conversation into some pious discourse on the gospel.

i belive that in american religion, which largely and highly pietistic, many observe this impulse in confessionalism and charge some sort of laxity with regard to evangelism and missiology. and we mistakenly cower and try to do all we can to correct it per the predominant evangelical rule-settings. pish-posh, i say. i say, "embrace the charge and tell them what they see is a pointed difference between confessionalism and pietism." this is a vital demarcation, i think. "oh, it's all that calvinism and predestinationism keeping you from unbridled and unchurchly evangelism." pish-posh once again, and nice try. but i refuse to apologize for our calvinism and our pointed emphasis on the inheritance of faith.

February 19, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterzrim
I for one am glad that this finally came out. It is about time. The sad part about it is that Chuck Smith's denial of the physical Resurrection and false prophecies concerning the end of the world got no traction but sex and money did. That in and of itself says it all.

The fact is that people who go to CC get what they deserved. This is not to absolve CC "pastors" but face it. If you go to a church where "members" have no vote, where leaders can teach whatever they like with no standards or no accountability, and you are suprised that abuse happens on this scale? People need to be responsible for the choices they make.

It isn't a Reformed or CC issue as I am not either and was both. CC attracts people because it removes all of the responsibility/accountability, appeals to people's desires and emotions.

Let the buyer beware.
February 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPerry Robinson

I was surprised to read in your post that Chuck Smith denies the physical Resurrection. I went to the Calvary Chapel website and found several places where he was clearly attempting to teach a belief in a physical resurrection of the body. I say "attempting" only because Pastor Smith's theological lanuage could use some refining.

I am by no means an expert on Chuck Smith, but could you provide some documentation to support the assertion that he denies the physical resurrection of the body?

Thank you!

February 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew
Chuck Smith views the resurrection as immaterial: Tape #5263/Word for Today dated 1979.

Tape #4743/Word for Today Chuck defends his view against the literalist view of the resurrection.

Other tapes where his concept of the resurrection body occurs:

4743, 5263, 5266, 5702, 8150, 8156, 8661, and 8667. The Word For Today tapes are generally undated, but the 5000 series tapes are circa '79; the 8000 series tapes are '97. The 5000 and 8000 series tapes are online at

February 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
The likely reason for Chuck Smith veering- off from valuing the physical body is due to "trichotomy." See Kim's article about this:

"In Smith's conception, God does not meet us as Protestants have historically affirmed--through means such as the Word and Sacrament--but instead, God meets us immediately "in the realm of our spirit." Because this is the case, not all Christians have "entered into the spiritual." According to Smith, we now have two categories of Christians, the "carnal" and the "spiritual," when the Bible knows only of one category, "Christians."

This is a classic case of the Gnostic impulse establishing a major beachhead in the very heart of Evangelicalism. If this is true, what then is the likely source of this Gnostic influence? No, Chuck Smith has probably not been going to New Age seminars or studying the works of Plotinus. But Chuck Smith is an ardent supporter of the dispensational system of annotations found in the famous Scofield Reference Bible, at first glance an unlikely source for Gnostic influences. When one considers, however, several of the notes advocating trichotomy contained in the Scofield Reference Bible, the reader is immediately intrigued, for example, by the affinities between the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:14, and the mystical and speculative philosophy of Plotinus."

The rest is here:
February 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.