George Bryson has gone “all in” on wanting to resolve the current, and potentially future, divide in Calvary Chapel over whether they should be, as he terms it, Reformed-Friendly or Reformed-Free. Apologist James White has already summarized pretty well the timeline of Bryson’s anti-Calvinist campaign. As Bryson describes it, Reformed-Friendly is understood as being open to and willing to not divide over whether CC pastors be allowed some freedom to be influenced more by Reformed soteriology and other distinctives of Reformed theology that would still be compatible with CC’s philosophy of expository preaching. Reformed-Free as being free from CC pastors who hold to such views or, as I understand it, being even sympathetic with allowing such views within the network for other pastors. I could be wrong here. Bryson did state that CC pastors should be “friendly” with Reformed pastors, but I understood it as being friendly with those outside the network, whereas the Reformed-Free view he advocates would necessitate a purging of such sentiment within the network.
I liken this discussion to our current debate on naturalization for illegal aliens. What do we do with those already here? We already have a de facto amnesty program at work. The fact is that there are Reformed CC pastors in the network. I know some myself, but will protect their identities. Many have arrived at a more Reformed theology precisely because CC so highly esteems the likes of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, and others. My common sense radar is screaming out, “How can you NOT be encouraging more Reformed-minded pastors when you recommend Reformed reading?”
Apparently, one is supposed to read these theological giants without being influenced by their theology. How’s that supposed to work out? I’m all for reading people of differing persuasions for the very purpose of broadening ones awareness of the Evangelical spectrum, but Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon are highly commended, as in endorsed, for consumption. To shut out folks sympathetic with their theological convictions seems strange.
Bryson is also making a false assumption that these parties can’t happily co-exist. Now, one can point to the challenges in the Southern Baptist Convention right now because of the Calvinism debate, but I’m confident everyone will move forward with arms locked around their 2000 Southern Baptist Faith and Message; which brings up a final point of contention I have with CC, namely that their statement of faith doesn’t explicitly endorse or reject many of the central tenets in Reformed theology. How can one adjudicate this issue without having a robust confessional statement to clearly articulate who’s in the wrong, if anyone is in the wrong? How can one tell a pastor that they’re in error if their ordination never included an exam to vet such doctrinal issues?
Bryson’s heavy deference to what Chuck Smith believes apparently serves as some sort of confession whereby CC pastors should be measured. The problem is that the movement, though deferring to Chuck Smith as the founder, has never really been given a specific delineation of CS’s doctrinal convictions that ought to be binding on all CC pastors. Are all CC pastors to parrot CS after listening to his sermon series through the entire Bible, not taking exception with any exegesis or theological formulation? Or are there certain core convictions within the whole that are weightier, like male leadership, dispensational eschatology, and Arminian soteriology? To try to delineate now, after all these years, may be necessary, but won’t end well if it’s simply enforced by GB without broad consultation with all of the CC pastors. Perhaps, they should have CC general assembly where CC pastors from all such churches that have been recognized as CC on their website directory gather together and vote on certain resolutions as whole. This would provide the fairest process of allowing the pastors in the network to speak and have a say. GB and CS would be wise to take into consideration the feelings of the pastors in the network as a whole before implementing some form of purging in the network. Again, such a vote would be nonbinding because the ecclesiology, on paper, allows for the autonomy of each church. Just some thoughts. My prayer is that CS and GB would recognize that there is a sizable minority of Reformed-leaning CC pastors, as well as a fairly large contingent of more neutral CC pastors who wouldn’t mind this being an open issue, even if they don’t share the same convictions. How large the contingent is that is passionately Arminian and feels that Reformed theology has no place whatsoever in the network is hard to tell. I can tell you for sure that GB does not represent the vast majority sentiment in the network – and if he implements his convictions, under the weight of CS, then it will not be conducive to the fruitful gospel witness of many Reformed CC pastors and churches. They might as well adopt an Episcopalian form of polity of top down authority if that’s the case. The irony would not be lost: a movement that has long branded itself as non-denominational and not rigid on ecclesiastical matters would functionally become one of the most authoritative denominations under top down rule. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, for the sake of all CC churches and their gospel witness within broader Christendom.
© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.