Chuck Smith–My Personal Tribute

Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, died on October 3 at 86. Also seen as the founder of the “Calvary Chapel” movement, he should above all be remembered for his pivotal role in the “Jesus Movement*” of the late ‘60’s and early 1970’s.

Now, at that time I was starting my pastoral career in Indiana. We had heard about this movement but we mostly discounted it as weird and certainly not “of God,” with its guitars and hippies and stuff—about what you’d expect to happen in California! In July of 1970 my wife and I moved to Southern California to find ourselves in the middle of this movement as it peaked.

Quite skeptical, I attended a Monday evening worship service in 1971. A mild but very uplifting period of simple and worshipful singing was followed by a l-o-n-g sermon by Chuck Smith on the Book of Revelation. Soon I would learn of his through-the-Bible preaching ministry that was the best thing that could happen for the thousands of converts in this movement. At the end of this service, hundreds stood and embraced, singing “The Lord’s Prayer.” Wonderful!

I should have left when the service ended! But Chuck had said that if any wanted the Holy Spirit in their lives they should stay for what they called “afterglow”. Most of the crowd left. But some of the young adults from my own church stayed, so I and my associate remained and sat in the back.

At the “afterglow” things got strange. A fellow named Lonnie Frisbee (that’s the truth!) sat at the front like a guru and told people weird things like the Spirit might come in through their toes and fingertips. I was relieved when those from my church literally ran out. In spite of this aberration, Chuck personally was always a very moderating force on “Holy Spirit” issues.

Chuck always struck me as an exemplary servant with deep humility and simplicity. Rumor has it that every person on his staff took turns cleaning restrooms. I had a conversation with him one evening when I ran into him at a Christian bookstore. He was carrying out boxes of Bibles.

For the “Jesus” revival, he was the right man in the right place at the right moment. Conservative and yet very open, he molded his ministry to be effective with those God called him to reach. He knew what should be preserved and what should bend or change or be stopped. (When he arrived at his church to find a note posted, “NO BARE FEET”, he threatened to tear out the new carpet rather than reject people. But even he once said it testing him when hippies would put those rubber communion cup holders on their toes!) If you attended a Sunday morning service at Calvary Chapel in the 70’s, you would find the experience like that of any typical Baptist church of the time.

His pastoral model has been a good one to follow in the face of other models (“pastors must be dynamic, visionary, challenging, etc.”) pushed upon us as “the gold standard.” His preaching style was a refreshing contrast to the “felt-need” trendy, truncated preaching that is also a part of this “gold standard.”

I didn’t accept all his ideas. Too much dogmatism on prophecy and its modern fulfillment. And his insistence that “Calvary Chapel” was not a denomination seemed like “preaching to the choir”.

The Jesus Movement brought long-lasting change to the broader church, most obviously in Christian worship. In Chuck’s absence, the Calvary Chapel movement will certainly change, but how we don’t yet know.

I will always give thanks to God for the ministry of this man. And I will honor him highly, for scripture says those who lead well “are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).

By Donald Shoemaker
Pastor Emeritus, Grace Community Church of Seal Beach, CA

* Wikipedia has a good and concise definition of the Jesus Movement:

The Jesus Movement was a movement in Christianity beginning on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spreading primarily through North America and Europe, before dying out by the early 1980s. It was the major Christian element within the hippie counterculture…

The Jesus movement left a legacy of various denominations and other Christian organizations, and had an impact on both the development of the contemporary Christian right and the Christian left. “Jesus music”, which grew out of the movement, greatly influenced contemporary Christian music…

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