Monday, October 14, 2013

A Pastor To Counter-Culture Has Died

At the entry way to First Pres. Colorado Springs is a remarkable sculpture of the figure of Jesus holding children and smiling.  The sculpture is life-sized and greets every visitor who enters the church with a hearty wink and smile.  The sculpture has actually been the source of some small controversy in the church through the years.  The controversy revolves not around the placement of the sculpture or the safety of the sculpture, but rather that the sculpture features Jesus with long hair and a pony tail.  "Long hair and pony tails on guys," I heard one member recently say to me recently, "do not belong in church!"  One pastor, who as of last week (Oct. 3) is with God in heaven, would disagree.  His name is, and was - Pastor Chuck Smith.

Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement in Costa Mesa, California, and throughout the United States and World is dead.  Chuck, as he liked to be called, was 86.

In the words of the New York Times obituary about him from this past week; "The Rev. Chuck Smith, a Southern California minister who shepherded flower children and rock 'n' roll into the conservative wing of the evangelical movement while building a religious wing of the evangelical movement that grew to encompass 700 congregations and hundreds of radio stations has died."

Chuck came up through the Four Square movement in Southern California, in the 1960's and 1970's and often had many connections the brand new Vineyard church.  After becoming dis-enamoured by the politics of the Four Square church, Chuck joined a struggling congregation in Costa Mesa (basically Newport Beach), that had 60 members, called Calvary Chapel.  Mixing a combination of a genuine love of many who were a part of the "Jesus movement of the 60's and 70's, and a practical, non-flashy (expository, "line by line through the Bible"), style of preaching, Chuck attracted hundreds and then thousands of followers.  Chuck was never critical of the fashion styles of his counter-cultural congregants.  Chuck was never condescending about their taste in rock 'n' roll music.  Where many main line denominations threw the members of the "Jesus movement" out, Chuck embraced them (literally embraced them...hugged them each week).  His approach seemed to be that as long as people were following Jesus with their lives, it didn't matter how they dressed, or what music they listened to.  It would have been quite common in the early days to see someone at Calvary Chapel in bell bottoms and a tangerine colored orange tank top, standing right next to a senior citizen wearing a suit and tie.  There was a healthy mix of all generations and styles in the early days of Calvary Chapel.

There are so many things that I agree with Chuck about.  Chuck's desire to lower the inherent barriers for people who want to worship God, without throwing the proverbial, "baby out with the bathwater" was revolutionary.  Chuck's embracing of rock 'n' roll music in church began an entire movement of Christianity in America that would eventually include Willow Creek, Saddleback Community and Northpoint in Atlanta.  Chuck's genuine love of people from all backgrounds and walks of life was palpable.  Chuck's orthodox theology in the midst of his acceptance was transformative.

There is also a great deal that I heartily and strongly disagree with Chuck Smith about.  Chuck's dis-inclusion of women in ministry, his oft times ill-informed sentiments about the sin of same sex relationships (Chuck claimed that Sept. 11 was caused in large part by homosexuality in this country), and his unending but never actualized predictions about the end of time (Chuck believed that the end times would come in 1981, and then almost every year thereafter he made similar predicitons) put him squarely (perhaps pun intended) in a very different evangelical camp from my own.  However, Chuck's contributions to opening up the Christian church to people who have long hair, and pony tails can never be overlooked.

After all, I'm pretty sure Jesus DID have long hair, though the pony tail might have been an invention of the 1960's and 1970's in Costa Mesa, California,

All For Now,

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