Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Epistles to Lonnie Frisbee

Letter #2

Seraph Postal - Forever
Dear Lonnie,

This is my second letter, and I would like to share some recent news about a territory that's familiar to you. Before I do, however, please give Chuck Smith and John Wimber a big hug for me. I am sure you guys are having a great time there in Heaven.

Well, anyhow, a kerfuffle has arisen not long ago about a "split" in Calvary Chapel. Brian Brodersen, the senior pastor at the venerable Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, gathered up his gumption, quit the CCA (Calvary Chapel Association), walked out, and started a new outfit of his own, called the Calvary Global Network (CGN). There has been a lot of undue consternation because of this turn of events. About 95% of what is said about it on the Internet is complete rubbish. I decided to add to the mess and share with you a few of my observations regarding this situation.

Those who forget their history are doomed to being surprised when it repeats itself. No one should have been surprised at what has happened, because schisms in Calvary Chapel are really nothing new. As anyone can recall (who's old enough), back in the early 1980s, Chuck Smith kicked out John Wimber, his CC of Yorba Linda, and a bunch of other CCs because — when you boil it all down — papa Chuck just didn't like the idea that somebody somewhere was getting too indecorous or maybe "speaking in new tongues" right out in the open for everyone to see. And as you pointed out in the second book of your autobiography, you were right there in the middle of things when this unfortunate schism occurred, starting with your famous "Mother's Day" service all the way to when Chuck finally lowered the boom on what you had catalyzed. You also said that "as much as I love Chuck, it was not pretty." As you well know, the CCs that got the boot — or to put it more sweetly, who were invited by Chuck to find the nearest exit — decided to conglomerate together with Kenn Gulliksen's churches, and under John Wimber's leadership, they became what is known today as the Vineyard USA. You would probably agree that the schism that happened back then was very regrettable in many ways. I imagine that both Chuck and John now realize that they actually needed each other. Chuck needed John, and John needed Chuck. Tacos and hamburgers can do good when combined together, even if it doesn't appear that way at first. Nevertheless, I think this more recent "split" is pretty mild in comparison to what happened back then.

As you probably have heard from Chuck, he picked his son-in-law Brian Brodersen to be his successor at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. The extensive assets there are now under Brian's control and supervision. I am sure that Chuck knew Brian better than most and knew exactly what he was doing when he entrusted everything to him — nobody was twisting Chuck's arm. And in a court of law, all that matters is what documents have Chuck's signature on them, and I am sure that Brian is all fair and square on this point as well. Case closed. And just like papa Chuck years ago quit the Foursquare denomination, Brian has decided to quit the CCA. Now If Brian wants to use his "Moses Model" prerogatives and to go out and start a club of his own, then there is nothing to stop him, and he has complete freedom to do so, every bit as much as papa Chuck had. Other pastors can join Brian's new club or stay in the old club, or both, whichever they choose.

If you remember those old church bulletins, Lonnie, they stated that Calvary Chapel is "not a denomination." This is the solemn truth, and I think that you would completely agree. The "Calvary Chapel movement" never has been and never will be a denomination. That is how Chuck wanted things. The CCA was never meant to be a unitary ecclesial government. Nor is the Brian's newer CGN for that matter. Each one is a "club for pastors" — or maybe "professional society" might be a fancier term for this. The CCA club was started by Chuck, when he was still here, to replace the earlier, now defunct, problematic CCOF (Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship), mainly because of legal issues that Chuck very much wanted to avoid. The CCA became a vehicle for Chuck to exert a wide, irenic influence without incurring any liabilities, or getting hit with lawsuits if someone misbehaved. And if there is anything that can be said about the church in Costa Mesa, it was successful, passing beyond even Chuck's wildest dreams — your autobiography shows the pivotal role that you had in all this. Being in the club provides the club members an attractive "brand name" cachet associated with it, and everybody wants to imitate success.

Clubs come and go. And I cannot think of a better term to describe how things actually operate. Each club provides a relational network so that "like-minded" pastors can "affiliate" and get together and attend conferences, where they can hobnob and chew the fat, compare notes, swap sermons, discuss the latest trends, and hang out with the big name celebrity pastors. Well, Chuck has gone to Glory now, but he was the glue that made it all stick together and the motor oil that kept the CC gears turning smoothly. And when you have gathered together a bunch of stout personalities who all believe that they are each the typological equivalent of Moses, eventually there will be some friction and a few sparks, especially now that the oil is gone. Lonnie, I don't think anybody should be surprised by this outcome. Most of the time the club members get along, and sometimes they don't. And if people no longer like the club they are in, sometimes they go out and start clubs of their own. This is precisely what pastor Brodersen has decided to do, as I have said earlier.

Nevertheless, I think it is very sad that Brian Brodersen and the CCA could not have worked out some sort of modus operandi for peaceful co-existence. The old guard at CCA insisted on strictly maintaining Chuck's paradigm, while Brodersen wanted to tweak things here and there a little. Their actual differences seem trivial to me, and having a "Calvary Chapel Association" minus the eponymous Calvary Chapel that started everything looks pretty silly. But these guys aren't taking my advice, Lonnie, so I don't bother trying to give it. They wouldn't take your advice either if you were still here. One thing is certain: there are no schisms up there in Heaven.

In any case, the people in the various CC congregations should not worry, because there was really nothing substantial to split. Each CC church is already completely and totally independent of the others. Absolutely nothing changed about this. Each CC senior pastor is a little version of "Moses" as far as the congregation is concerned. He calls the shots and is not "accountable" to the CCA or CGN or any other outside organization. Therefore, how a particular CC church operates is already determined by the character and methodology of the individual pastor. And I will wager dollars to donuts that, as far as the laity are concerned, it won't make ten cents worth of difference which club the pastor joins. Besides, as you well know, Lonnie, the people in the CC congregations don't have a vote about the matter anyhow.

I daresay that things at the local level will be business as usual. So everybody should just relax. The preaching at a particular CC will continue to be just as good or as mediocre it was before. The quality of the worship music will continue to fall somewhere in a spectrum that ranges from the downright dreadful to the just barely bearable, just like it did before. Nothing will really change. The most that will happen is that the church will get listed or delisted in somebody's "church locator" database. The pastor might get invited to attend a conference over here in this place as opposed to over there in that place. In fact, if he doesn't do anything, his church will end up being grandfathered into both databases. And the pastor's email box will fill up with invitations from both places. The congregations shouldn't fret themselves about this.

Unfortunately, many people believe the nonsense — which gets re-posted on their Facebook pages — coming from the "online discernment ministry" (ODM) bloggers out there on the Internet who are busy pontificating about this matter. The ODMs are mostly crackpots who suffer from special mental tics all very their own. You know this from the rotten treatment they've given you over the years. They're already making it out that Brian is some kind of apostate too. It's the crazy Internet, Lonnie, so not much can be done about this. I try to tell people to ignore this stuff.

Anyhow, Lonnie, I have run low on vellum, but I thought I would share this bit of news with you. Please let Chuck and John know what's going on. I imagine that they would want to pray about the situation. In the end, everything will shake out. I will be writing you another letter soon, for I still have some Seraphic Postal stamps left. Unfortunately, I have to slaughter another sheep to make some more vellum.

Sincerely yours,
Troubles and Woes on Earth