Life Before Calvary Chapel

via Life Before Calvary Chapel

Life Before Calvary Chapel

I always have thought of history as something that happened way before I was born, but, alas, not so.

Perhaps because of the national attention spurred by the cover of TimeMagazine, many people are under the impression that the Jesus Movement (AKA “Charismatic Renewal”) started at Calvary Chapel in southern California. It did not.

In the past, I often shared my personal faith journey in such a way that folks were left with the impression that I came to faith and grew up spiritually at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa under Chuck Smith. I did not, although Chuck later became my primary mentor and teacher and I planted and pastored CC affiliates and directed the CC Bible College.

The Jesus Movement/Charismatic Renewal, was (and in some significant ways still is) an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that swept much of America and Europe during the 1960s and 1970s. Long before Calvary Chapel was on the radar, there were large numbers of mainline Christians in the United States who received the Baptism in the Spirit mostly from contact with parachurch groups as the Camps Furthest Out (CFO) and the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI). Even as far back as the 1930s, mainline believers were receiving the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and were speaking in tongues. Those who were pastors were usually made to resign. Some wound up in pastoral ministry within Pentecostal denominations.

Others, like Lutheran minister Harold Bredesen, remained in ministry in mainline churches. In 1957, Bredesen accepted the position as pastor of Mount Vernon Dutch Reformed Church in upper New York. That church soon became the focus of local charismatic activity and worship.A handful of other pastors succeeded in openly operating as Spirit-filled ministers within their denominations; among these were Fr. Richard Winkler (Episcopal, in Wheaton, Illinois) and Rev. James Brown (Presbyterian in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania). Russ Bixler, the pastor of the Pittsburgh Church of the Brethren was a well-known charismatic leader and author both during his 13-year tenor there and after he resigned in 1972 to head up a parachurch organization.

Coming back to my story – I came to faith apart from any group. I was searching seeking, reading, and came across Letters from a Modern Mysticby missionary/linguist Frank Laubach, in which he describes encounters with the living God. Alone, in my bedroom, I cried out (I do not remember what I said) – the room became flooded with light and a soft voice spoke from within me calling me “little one.” I was enveloped with divine love, and, looking back, know I was born from above, although I was unaware of that term at the time. From then on, I loved God, prayed much of every day and lived in the love of Christ.

In high school, I was exposed to a teacher who was a member of the Church of the Brethren, a small, Anabaptist “peace” denomination. I also developed a strong opposition to the war in Vietnam, not only because it was an immoral war, but also because I came via a long process of thought, reading, and prayer, to conclude that, like the Brethren, I was conscientiously opposed to war in any form. I registered for the draft as a conscientious objector based on my religious beliefs.

I got married when I was 18 and soon had a son and a daughter. Thinking it was an excellent idea to be a part of a church, we went to a nearby Church of the Brethren and were welcomed and accepted, baptized by triune immersion, and put in charge of the small youth group.

One day, my pastor called me and told me to read Acts chapter 2. I did. I called him back and said, “awesome.” He replied, “That happened to me.”  I said, “I want it too. He said, “We have to go to Pittsburgh.” (I lived in Baltimore, and apparently the Holy Spirit lived in Pittsburgh.)

Shortly thereafter, we drove to the Pittsburgh Church of the Brethren where Russ Bixler was pastor. He preached on the Baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which was impressive, but I was even more impressed before he spoke. The sanctuary was full an hour before the service. The front seats were taken first. Everybody seemed to love each other. Right in front of me was a hippie with bare feet, fringe and earrings next to a very conservatively dressed man in a gray business suit sporting a crew cut. They hugged each other. I had never seen a church like this. I couldn’t wait for the altar call, and when it was given, I bolted forward and into the room to the side where people were being prayed for to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. A nice man was explaining things. I wasn’t listening because I was already flooded with, inundated, immersed, invaded by God’s Spirit and was speaking in tongues under my breath so as not to disturb the speaker. He then went around laying hands on person after person, got to me, and said, “yep, you’ve got it.”

I literally prayed in tongues nonstop feeling drenched in love and grace for the next 24 straight hours. I devoured scripture, devotional reading, worship music, and testimonies. Somehow, I found charismatic Bible studies and prayer meetings all over the city and attended four or five nights a week. A Presbyterian pastor’s wife who was quite gifted taught one.

The same pastor who took me to Pittsburgh somehow found out about a Saturday night praise and prayer service in a rural church located outside the tiny town of Parkesburg, Pennsylvania (which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere). Rev. James H. Brown was the pastor of the Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church, which was established in 1720 by a group of Scotch-Irish immigrants. (The name Octorara came from an Indian word meaning “Rushing Waters.” There was a Native American settlement located along the Octorara Creek.) In the 1960s, Rev. Brown led Saturday evening prayer and praise services that attracted people of all denominations from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states. These charismatic services have had a lasting impact on the religious world of today. Each year visitors return on spiritual pilgrimages to Upper Octorara where they were so deeply and powerfully touched by God.

I was one of those deeply touched by God. The place was packed with middle class people, hippies, old-line Pentecostals, Jesus Freaks with tambourines, people of all ages and ethnicities. People were miraculously healed; demons were cast out. Together, we praised, worshipped, and sang for hours. People shared testimonies. I remember an Army general saying he was buck private in the Lord’s army and a woman from Ireland speaking about the violence between Catholics and Protestants. Rev. Brown oversaw all of this – a tall, thin, Scottish-looking gentlemanly bloke with a gentle sweet smile who did a little dance as he lightly tapped his tambourine. Love saturated the place.

I helped lead youth retreats and camps, saw tons of students saved, baptized in the Holy Spirit, transformed, healed. I helped baptize hundreds in streams.

Meanwhile, back at the Church of the Brethren, there was a small group that were supportive and a larger group, lead by an ordained minister and hospital chaplain, who freaked out and did all they could to run us off.

That was unnecessary because I knew from the time I received the infilling of the Holy Spirit in Pittsburgh that I was called to be a pastor-teacher. I jumped through the denominational hoops, was licensed to the ministry and accepted a position as pastor of a tiny, rural, Church of the Brethren in rural Minnesota. Within days of arriving, I found a charismatic prayer meeting in Winona and attended weekly. That eventually morphed into Living Light Christian Fellowship, the first church-plant in which I was involved.

But also while I was pastoring in Minnesota, my sister sent me Chuck Smith tapes – his through the Bible series from Genesis to revelation. I ate it up. I began corresponding with Chuck and learning from him. After we moved to Colorado Springs to pastor another Church of the Brethren (which exploded with Jesus freaks over the next year, much to the consternation of the old folks who were entrenched there) I started a Calvary Chapel affiliate with Chuck’s blessing and guidance.




Who is this Jesus? Revelation 1:1-8

Tender Love: Luke 8:40-56

Revelation 1:1-3: Following the Lamb of God into His Kingdom

via Revelation 1:1-3: Following the Lamb of God into His Kingdom

Revelation 1:1-3: Following the Lamb of God into His Kingdom

Jesus Invades Enemy Territory: Luke 8:22-39

Easter Sunday! It All Comes Down to This! Mark 16:1-8

Bearing Fruit, Shining Lights: Luke 8:16-21

Victorious Messiah!

Theologians have debated over theories of the atonement for centuries; however, almost all of the debate is post-Constantine. Proto-orthodox scholars, who predate the usurpation of Christianity by the Empire, were characterized by persecution, martyrdom, poverty, and sold-out devotion. They agreed on much: the importance of actually doing what Jesus said to do, the trinity, the essential nature of Christ, His bodily resurrection, a Christological reading of all of scripture, and what was much later labeled as the Christus Victor theory of the atonement. Christus Victor sees the entire life of Jesus, not just His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, as salvific. Christus Victor sees Jesus on the cross:

  • Revealing the divine truth about who God really is (perfect love)
  • Reconciling all things (including humans) to God (but not God to humans because God was never mad at anyone – the problem is on our side)
  • Focusing all the sins of humankind into a singularity called “sin,” which was then born and forgiven
  • Healing us of our sin-diseased natures (we are all broken – the true meaning of “original sin”)
  • Invading, immersing, filling, anointing all with the Holy Spirit, which enables us to live kingdom of God lives (loving enemies, turning the other cheek, nonviolent resistance to evil, living by the sermons on the mount and plain)
  • Giving us an example of how to live, love and forgive
  • And, defeating the power of darkness that rule this world by overcoming evil with love (which in reality includes all the others).

Consequently, the cross is not just about having our sins forgiven so we can go to heaven after we die. It is that, thank God, but also includes so much more – nothing short of a complete cosmic victory that will eventually bring all of creation into perfect alignment with the will of God. We are not only forgiven; we are also set free to from all the forces of darkness in this evil age. As we day by day trust in Christ, we share His cosmic victory; we are saved from satan, destruction, the inability to be right with God and others, idolatrous efforts to find a source of life in lesser things, and meaninglessness. We are saved to participate in life, joy, peace, love and goodness. And we are empowered to clean out of our lives everything not in alignment with the Kingdom of God, including the swearing of oaths, violence, retaliation, coercion, unforgiveness, judgmentalism, yielding to temptations, lying, legalism, false teaching, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, pride, nationalism, allegiance to anything other than Christ, and so on.

Moreover, the cross is not a legal transaction as understood by Anselm of Aosta (c. 1033 – 1109), the Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave us the now commonly accepted “penal substitution” theory. According to that theory, God the Father is so holy He cannot stand to even look at us and has righteously concluded that everyone must be tortured in eternal fire forever. To prevent that from happening, Jesus stepped in and took our sin on the cross so that all of God’s wrath, anger, judgment, and punishment could be vented on Him. Having whipped and crucified Jesus instead of us, God can now forgive us because a legal exchange has taken place. God, the righteous judge has punished Jesus the defense attorney instead of us the proven guilty who were rightly accused by Satan the prosecuting attorney.

There are many problems with that view. If God needed to vent wrath somewhere, did He really forgive? How does ruthlessly punishing an innocent person absolve the guilt of a criminal/sinner? How can a loving Father pour wrath on His only son? When we look at the Gospel stories, it is clear that God did nothing violent at Calvary. People caused all the ugliness of Calvary. All the Father did was watch. God is not and never was angry with us. He cannot be – God is love.

The cross is not a legal transaction that absolves us of guilt and by so doing divorces justification from sanctification. Many have taught that a person must first by faith accept Christ, which results in being justified before God, declared right with God, “saved,” heading for heaven after death; to be followed (optionally) by making Jesus Lord of one’s life, obeying Him, following Him, and serving His kingdom. The result is a ton of people who are “saved,” but their lives bear no resemblance to Christ’s. Massive numbers of Christians see no need to live by the Sermon on the Mount and continue to support things diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of God.

The Christus Victor view eliminates all those difficulties. Jesus died for our sins. All the sins of all of humankind were focused into a singularity (“the sin of the world”), absorbed, born, and forgiven by God. The kingdom of evil was overcome, not by violence, but by self-sacrificing love. On the cross, we see the heart of God. As His enemies are torturing Him to death, He forgives them. Now, by faith, we make Him Lord of our lives and trust Him daily for the ability to live like Jesus.

Yet, how do we know love has conquered evil and the Kingdom of God is victorious over the kingdoms of this world that are ruled by the principalities and powers of satan? Are we not surrounded by war, violence, poverty, hatred, sickness, disease, and strife?

We know for sure that Christ won the full and final victory over evil because he is risen from the dead.

We know He is risen from the dead by an abundance of historical evidence, including:

  • Hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Him, talked with Him, ate with Him
  • Nearly all of those eyewitnesses died horrific deaths insisting He was alive and is Lord of all
  • Not one of those eyewitnesses recanted their story even under pain of torture
  • The Romans made sure He was really dead (there was no possibility of a comatose state – Rome was good at killing people)
  • The tomb was sealed under Roman law under pain of death
  • The tomb was guarded 24/7 by Roman soldiers
  • The entrance to the tomb was covered by a disk-shaped stone weighing many tons
  • Something or someone picked up the stone and set it off by itself (Scripture says an angel)
  • The tomb was already empty
  • The graveclothes were still wrapped as if around a body
  • The turban was neatly folded and set aside
  • For over 2,000 years, lives and cultures have been transformed by people attesting to the fact that He is risen.

If not risen from the dead, who moved the stone? How did Jesus get out of a sealed and guarded tomb? How do you explain all the eyewitnesses and changed lives and refusals to recant?

Christ is risen!

Christ is victorious!

Christ is King!

Christ is Lord!

So, where is the Kingdom of God? It is here. It is everywhere women and men trust Jesus and are by faith and grace eliminating everything contrary to the Kingdom from their lives. It is where dedicated followers of Christ love their enemies, provide for the homeless poor, seek justice, house the stranger-alien, turn the other cheek, refuse to participate in war or violence or coercion, share all their worldly possessions with others, live in peaceful community, and spread shalom.

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