Every Denomination Has a Family Tree as Calvary Chapel’s Demonstrate FeaturedWritten by Brian Nixon
,By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – October 4, 2017) -- Like many people today who provides samples for genetic testing to determine family heritage, my brother recently sent his saliva sample for testing. Though I’ve yet to hear the results, my hunch is that it will demonstrate what we already know: our family is a mix of Scots-Irish (father and maternal grandmother) and German (maternal grandfather) ancestry.
The one mystery is our paternal grandmother. Family lore says she is of Native American descent, one of the Five Civilized Tribes now settled in Oklahoma. We’ll see. There may be a few surprises found somewhere in our lineage, but highly unlikely. Our family (both the Nixon’s and Clauser’s) has a clear record back to Europe. Through basic research we know the cities our direct relatives came from: for the Clauser’s a small town southeast of Strasbourg in southern Germany, and for the Nixon’s, a small town in County Clare (via immigration from Scotland in the 1600’s). But the results should be fun none-the-less.
Just like genetic testing, denominations within Christianity also have a family tree. I always enjoy the surprise on student’s faces in my church history class when I let them know the family tree of Calvary Chapel. For fun, I like to say we’re Wesleyan’s with guitars. For many, the fact that recent movements/denominations have a family tree comes as a shock. Some don’t ponder past the founder of the denomination, thinking that the movement just popped up out of nowhere. The facts couldn’t be further from the truth.
And though each Christian denomination has a family tree, I’ll focus on Calvary Chapel. Why Calvary Chapel? For one, I’ve been a part of Calvary Chapel’s for most of my adult life (though first licensed to ministry in the Brethren -- a German-Pietism group, and academically trained in an Anglican setting), working closely with Chuck Smith and various Calvary pastors. As a matter of fact, it is Calvary pastor, Skip Heitzig, that encouraged the writing of this article. Two, the new PBS documentary on Martin Luther showed Calvary Chapel’s in a family tree leading back to Luther . Quite interesting -- and correct. And three, my friend, Dr. Richard Weikart -- in partnership with Calvary Chapel Merced -- produced a documentary entitled Exploring the Reformation and Revivals in Germany. And though Dr. Weikart doesn’t connect Calvary Chapel’s to the German revivals, he easily could have -- as we’ll briefly see.
But first, a quick history of Calvary Chapel. According to my late friend Hal Fischer, and the early board documents Hal provided me with, Calvary Chapel began in 1961/1962 with the suggestion of a name for a new church in Orange County, California. According to Hal, Mrs. Nelson (the wife of the first pastor) called Hal to ask him if he liked the name Calvary Chapel. Hal did. Calvary Chapel began meeting at a mobile home park, moving shortly to the Girl Scout Building in Costa Mesa on Newport Blvd.
By April 1962, Calvary Chapel obtains a resolution to purchase property on 1950 Church St. The church began in earnest in a new building. Calvary Chapel hired its first pastor, Floyd Nelson. By 1964, Calvary Chapel had developed its statement of faith (derived from its early Pentecostal roots, dating back to the Foursquare Movement). But by the end of 1964 things were about to change. Floyd Nelson resigned on December 10th, only to retract his resignation.
In November of 1965 Calvary Chapel hired Chuck Smith, a former Foursquare pastor, as an associate. Though not in the board minutes, Hal let me know that there were some disagreements between the Calvary Chapel board and Floyd Nelson. Floyd resigns again in late 1965 and Chuck Smith takes over the leadership at Calvary Chapel in December. And by 1966 through 1967 the church outgrows its facilities and purchases the Greenville School on the corner of Sunflower and Greenville Rd. in Santa Ana, California, and then again purchasing the property of its current location on Fairview Ave. The rest -- if you will -- is history. By the grace of God, Calvary Chapel blossoms, becoming a mega-church and then a worldwide Christian movement.
But there’s something I want you to notice: the first branch in the family tree. Both Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith had connections to the Foursquare denomination. The Foursquare movement started in 1923 by the controversial Aimee Semple McPherson. Mixing Pentecostal theology with the rising power of media, Ms. McPherson was able to navigate a growing church, and shortly after, a denomination, making a worldwide impact through media until her untimely fall though a host of odd occurrences (including a supposed kidnapping).
And though Chuck Smith had left the Foursquare denomination, his early Christian training was tied to the Foursquare model, attending the Bible college established by the Foursquare Church, Life Bible College. It’s safe to say that some of what Chuck Smith emphasized at Calvary Chapel finds its roots in the Foursquare denomination: use of media to further the gospel, contemporary music, casual ministerial licensing (non seminary trained), and relatively rapid church-planting, among them.
But the Foursquare is just the first branch. The second branch of the family tree is connected to where the Foursquare church derived its influence. This connection goes back to the Pentecostal revivals occurring in various cities around the world. One occurrence was the Azusa Street Revivals that took place in Azusa, California between 1906-1915. Many consider this the birth of Pentecostalism in the United States. But there were other Pentecostal revivals elsewhere, including in England and Ireland. It was under the preaching ministry of a Pentecostal missionary from Ireland, Robert Semple, that Aimee became a Christian and a convinced Pentecostal. She later married Robert Semple, but after Robert died from dysentery after a mission’s trip to China, she remarried an accountant, Harold Stewart McPherson. It’s from the Pentecostal influence that Calvary Chapel’s acquired a strong emphasis on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, though Chuck Smith stressed a toned-down implementation of the gifts, coming to a balanced and Biblical view .
If Foursquare is the first branch in the family tree, and the broader Pentecostal movement is the second branch, what is the third branch? The answer is the Holiness Moment, connecting it to Wesleyanism. The Holiness Movement was a broad Christian movement that stressed key Biblical themes surrounding the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, including a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Bible study, good works, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Holiness Movement was trans-denominational, influencing people in Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Quaker churches. The timeframe of the Holiness Movement was between 1790-1850’s, giving rise to various denominations: the Methodist, Salvation Army, The Southern Baptist, Church of the Nazarene, and Christian Missionary Alliance being the most notable.
If the Holiness Movement was the third branch in the Calvary Chapel lineage, the fourth branch is obvious: Anglican clergyman, John Wesley, and his brother, Charles, the influencers behind the Holiness Movement. As English Anglicans within an Arminian theological branch of the Church of England, both John and Charles Wesley stressed the three-legged stool of Anglican thought (scripture, reason, and tradition), but added a fourth leg: experience. Called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, John and Charles Wesley placed great stress on the fourth leg: one must have a born-again experience with Jesus if one is to live a victorious Christian life. John Wesley described the witness of the Spirit as “an inward impression on the soul of believers, whereby the Spirit of God directly testifies to their spirit that they are the children of God.”
In addition to experience, John and Charles Wesley promoted basic points for developing a vital Christian life (called a Holy Club): Bible study, prayer, fasting, good works, grace, conversion, and evangelism. I’d contend that Calvary Chapel’s -- via osmosis and the holiness connections -- received from John and Charles Wesley the importance of music in church, a church government model (localized Episcopal), and Biblical exposition. Most of John Wesley’s sermons, both in England and on his missionary journey in North America, revolved around the simple exposition of Scripture, taking a verse-by-verse approach. And though Chuck Smith picked up the idea for Biblical exposition from Henry Halley (Halley’s Bible Handbook) and G. Campbell Morgan, the historical precedence that found its way to Calvary Chapel was established by John Wesley.
It’s with John Wesley that a fork in the family tree occurs. One branch goes back to the Anglican roots in England, finding its way back to William Tyndale and John Wycliffe, the two architects of Reformation thought, and before them to the Celtic expression of Christianity prior to the Roman Catholic dominance initiated with Augustine of Canterbury in 597 AD. The other branch is directly connected to German Pietism, and it’s here we’ll turn.
Though John Wesley attended college at Christ Church, Oxford and was already a working clergyman within Anglicanism, it wasn’t until his exposure to German Pietism, largely through the Moravians and Count Zinzendorf, that Wesley had an “Aldersgate experience.” This experience -- an awakening to the person and work of the Holy Spirit -- coincided with a reading from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. Together, a Biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit and an expository understanding of Scripture --revolutionized Wesley’s ministry. Wesley described the experience as, “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
If the German Pietist influenced Wesley, the question then is who are the German Pietists, leading to the fifth branch in the Calvary Chapel family tree? Though much could be said about German Pietism -- and it’s here I recommend Dr. Weikart’s fine video on the subject , there are four people worthy of mention: Philipp Spener (pastor and author, 1635-1698), August Hermann Francke (Biblical expositor, 1663-1727), Alexander Mack (founder of the Brethren movement, 1679-1735), and Nikolaus Ludwig Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf (founder of the Moravians, 1700-1760).
And though much could be said about each of the above-mentioned men, I’ll concentrate on the father of Pietism, Philipp Spener. Through the writings of Philipp Spener, German Pietism sought to revitalize the fading orthodoxy of Lutheranism. In Spener’s most notable work, Pia Desideria, he stressed the following:
- The earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings, ecclesiolae in ecclesia (“little churches within the church”)
- The Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church
- A knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement
- Instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them
- A reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life
- A different style of preaching, namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life
As one can read, Spener sought a common Christianity, one rooted in the devotional life of Bible study, the priesthood of all believers, Christian living, grace with other Christian groups, Christian education and training, and preaching that touches the mind as well as the heart.
And though Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa didn’t realize it, the first statement of purpose at Costa Mesa aligned with Spener’s points quite nicely. Here’s what Costa Mesa wrote:
“Calvary Chapel has been formed as a fellowship of believers in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our supreme desire is to know Christ and to be conformed into His image by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“We are a non-denominational Church. But we are not opposed to denominations -- only their tendency to over emphasize the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the body of Christ.
“We believe that the only true basis of Christian Fellowship is His Agape Love, which is greater than any differences we may have. And without His love we have no right to claim ourselves as Christians.
“Worship of God should be spiritual, therefore we remain flexible and yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct our worship.
“Worship of God should be inspirational, therefore we give great place to music in our worship.
“Worship of God should be intelligent, therefore our services are designed with great emphasis upon teaching the Word of God that He might instruct us how He would be worshipped.
“Worship of God is fruitful, therefore we look for His love in our lives as the supreme manifestation that we have truly been worshipping Him.”
And though many Calvary Chapel’s have moved beyond this original statement of purpose, the sentiment behind the statement still rings true in many Calvary Chapel’s around the world. On many occasions Chuck Smith give me a broader view of his influences, including “picking the best fruit” from various denominations, to following a church service outlined in Haley’s Bible Handbook. On other occasions Chuck told me about some of his personal influences. They include his college professor, Nathaniel Van Cleave, Billy Graham, and British expositor, G. Campbell Morgan. He was also impressed by the ministry of George Muller, and the life of Corrie ten Boom (whom Chuck would visit when she moved to Southern California).
So if German Pietism was the fifth branch in the Calvary Chapel tree, what is before this? The answer can be complicated. One branch would go through Pietism via Alexander Mack to the Anabaptists, as founded by Menno Simmons (1496-1561), part of the radical reformation. And before the Anabaptists to Martin Luther (1483-1546). And as pointed out above, on the English side the Anglicans trace their heritage back to Tyndale and Wycliffe. And of course before Tyndale, Wycliffe, and Luther, all Christian were Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or underground sectarian groups such the Brethren of the Common Life (a Roman Catholic pietist community founded in the Netherlands in the 14th century by Gerard Groote) or Celtic expressions found in the British Isles.
And when we get into the Middle Ages, the family tree continues -- all the way back to the Apostles and Jesus, the foundation -- the roots -- of the tree. But what any family tree demonstrates is that the tree is growing—just like the kingdom of God: new branches are added through the addition of new lives saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And as in any family tree, there are some branches that eventually die out—through rot or bad fruit, but other branches continually grow, expanding God’s kingdom until the day He establishes a new heaven and earth, and the family can sup and celebrate together at an amazing party. Can’t wait for that day!
As this short overview of the family tree of Calvary Chapel shows, all denominations and movements have a family heritage. I encourage you to learn yours. And though it’s not as easy as sending saliva to a company, with some research and study, you, too, can learn about God’s amazing work through His people and churches in the world. Remember this: all societies have a story, all cultures (church or otherwise) have a commencement, and all people have parents. And though some family trees have some shameful spots, don’t revel in what has transpired but in what can transform, namely Christ. For in the end, the history of the church is just that: His Story. And the story the Lord has written will continue, culminating with a happy ending (see Revelation 21-22).
3) Hal was the first board chair at the first Calvary Chapel. He went home to be with the Lord just one year ago. His life was a testimony to many. His wife, Sharon Fischer, has written a fine book called I Remember... The Birth of Calvary Chapel, click: http://calvaryd.org/advanced_search_result.php?keywords=Sharon%20Fischer&sort=2a
4) See Smith's Charisma Vs. Charismania
Photo captions: 1) Chuck Smith preaching. 2) Hal Fischer with his wife, Sharon, and Pastor Chuck Smith. 3) The Calvary Chapel dove. 4) Foursquare logo. 5) John Wesley. 6) Martin Luther. 7) Count Zinzendorf. 8) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He's a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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