What is Calvary Chapel?
“The Best Kept Secret in Churches”
“When I heard a Calvary Chapel pastor teaching on the radio for the first time, it was a revelation for me. I had never heard of Calvary Chapel much less had any idea that I would end up leading Calvary Catonsville one day. I just knew almost immediately that I liked what I heard. The teaching was just different from what I was used to. I heard a man who obviously loved God and did not take himself too seriously. He taught the Bible in a way that was true to the Bible but understandable. It was filled with love and truth and totally relatable to my life. That led me to two important questions: What is Calvary Chapel? and Is there a Calvary Chapel near me?
Living on the East Coast, I had never even heard the name before so I was somewhat skeptical. Then I researched the amazing history of the Calvary Chapel movement. More importantly, I found that the same philosophy of teaching of the Bible simply and plainly still characterizes the many Calvary Chapel churches today. Calvary Chapel’s hold true to the verse from Zechariah 4 – Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts. After investigating Calvary Chapel, I found it was a group of churches who held the same beliefs that I did. It was what I had been searching after for years. After then attending a local Calvary Chapel, I loved the time and the results so much that we started Calvary Catonsville to offer the same life-changing message to my hometown. It is not that Calvary Catonsville or any of the Calvary Chapel’s are anything special in themselves. Rather, it is through simple reliance on God to do the work through His Spirit alone that lives are changed in dramatic ways at Calvary Catonsville.
As there are more the 1500 Calvary Chapel’s across the US and the World, there is likely one near you. I believe that we are the best-kept secret in churches”
– Pastor Tom
The Calvary Chapel Movement – Its History
The Calvary Chapel movement began in Costa Mesa, California when a mainline denominational pastor, Chuck Smith, joined forces with a hippie evangelist to reach the phenomenon that became known as the Jesus Movement. In the midst of the drug-fueled rebellion of an entire generation during the 1960’s, the Holy Spirit began to bring the people burned out by sin and life to the feet of Jesus. Thousands of young people who had tuned in and dropped out looking for truth in their experiences found it in the person of Jesus Christ. They were set free from the addictions and cares of the world but like the Samaritans who were saved in the Book of Acts needed a place to grow and be equipped in their new found faith. They needed leaders who were ready to teach them the fundamentals of the faith and lead them to maturity. This is where Chuck Smith came in and the Calvary Chapel Movement was born.
Encouraged by his daughter and wife, Pastor Chuck began preaching and teaching the Gospel to these hungry souls. He taught them the Bible in a manner that would become synonymous with Calvary Chapel. The Bible is the Word of God Himself. God inspired it and preserved it through history for our benefit. So it makes sense that God through His Word can do a better job teaching people how to follow Him than any man through his wisdom. This was Chuck’s foundational belief and it motivated his style of teaching. Chuck Smith preached expositionally, line by line, verse by verse, precept upon precept to build up these newly saved young men and women in their faith. While some may hear this and question how engaging teaching straight through the Bible is, this discounts the active work of God in the process. When we trust in God and His Spirit rather than fancy presentations and glitzy entertainment, the Bible comes alive for people through God’s Spirit. Through the Word, it is God who teaches and motivates them to go out and share the Gospel with others. This simple reliance upon God’s Spirit and God’s Word resulted in thousands upon thousands coming to faith at Calvary Chapel. Some of the men then went out and began planting new churches across the country. There has never been a central planning board at Calvary Chapel. Just mean and women seeking to follow the leading of Jesus and reach His lost sheep.
An Unlikely Combination
Chuck Smith and the hippie Jesus Movement was an unlikely pairing on the surface. Chuck Smith wore a suit and tie as he taught the literal interpretation of the Scriptures to groups of young people who had just stopped taking drugs the day before and often were without shoes. But in some ways, it matched the authenticity and simplicity of the early church. The infectious zeal of the newly saved people and their lack of pretense combined with a high view of the Bible created something wonderful. “Come however the Lord found you and don’t worry what you look like” was the message. “Boldly worship Jesus if you have been a Christian for 50 years or 5 minutes, we are all family here”, was the atmosphere. People from all walks of life, race, and background in fellowship with one another through Jesus was the reality. This love of Jesus and desire to follow Him above all in an informal atmosphere came to define Calvary Chapel in the years that follow.
Blessed are the Flexible, for they Shall not be Broken
When the early church buildings brand new carpet began to get dirty from the recently arrived hippies unwashed bare feet and some complained, Pastor Chuck had the carpet removed to prevent it getting in the way of full worship of Jesus. When young people began to sit on the floor rather than in the pews during sermons, some of the older believers got down with them so they would not be alone. “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken” became one of the Pastor Chuck sayings that would sum up this approach to church. If the Bible does not say it should be done in one way, there are blessings in being flexible to meet the needs of the church family. This does not make Calvary Chapel a wishy-washy movement doctrinally. We believe that there are core doctrines set out in the Word by God Himself. Only God is capable of changing those. Rather, where God has not spoken in areas like how we should dress for church on Sunday, type of music chosen to worship the Lord and where we meet, there is great freedom afforded God’s people. This respect for freedom in the non-essentials of the faith tends to mean that we get along with churches of different denominations with which we may not agree on all non-essential doctrines.
The original Calvary Chapel started with 25 people but the movement it birthed has grown into a fellowship of over 1500 churches, making it one of the ten largest Protestant denominations/associations in the United States. They are known for their vibrant worship, systematic Bible teaching, come as you are attitude and strong missionary fervor.
Calvary Chapel is generally conservative and evangelical in our theology. We also are squarely in the middle ground teaching questions like the role of the Holy Spirit in today’s church. We are neither strictly charismatic nor cessationist in beliefs. We believe that outside of the core doctrines of the faith there is a lot of room for varying beliefs in regards to the spiritual gifts within the church. This reflects our general belief that when Jesus told us as believers that we are to love our brothers, this even includes those brothers who we disagree with on non-essential doctrine. Love is the way the world will know we belong to Jesus, after all.
So What is Calvary Chapel
Calvary Chapel is a church for those who love Jesus, His people, and His Word and want to worship God simply – in Spirit and Truth. We do our best to make the following of God’s directions what church is all about and not quarrel over tradition. We seek to love each other like a family, be an authentic caring community and to preach Jesus and Him crucified wherever we go.
What to Expect
Welcome to the Calvary Catonsville Family
“I love how the church is so genuinely kind to one another. Everyone is like family. There are no cliques here.”
Church member, Calvary Catonsville
Going to a new church for the first time can be intimidating, particularly if it is of a completely new type of church. I was quite frankly a bit terrified when I walked into a Calvary Chapel for the first time. It really doesn’t need to be. What first strikes most people during their first visit to a Calvary Chapel is how nice and unassuming people are. From the moment I walked into my first service, people were genuinely friendly in a way that I had never experienced in a church before. I quietly made my way to a seat and people nearby who did not have a greeter tag on introduced themselves. There was no program to do so and that day there was not even a greeter. They just wanted to say “Hello”, welcome me and try to help me feel comfortable. There was no program to do so and no guile in the approach. My family has visited quite a few Calvary Chapels on vacation over the years and it has been the same thing wherever we go. Not just the pastor or staff, but everyone is warm and welcoming. No church politics, no pretension, no cliques, no assigned seats, it is just regular folks gathering to worship the One who unites us as a family – Jesus. Calvary Chapels truly believe that we are family in Jesus and try to live this out in practice.
This shows up in the pastors as well. While there are some truly brilliant men in the pulpits of Calvary Chapels, it is not the intelligence or years of training that are ever on display. The pastors are generally just regular guys, a part of the church body, called to teach the Word of God simply, accurately and fully. Since we believe that it is God who teaches, God who allows us to learn and it is for God’s glory, the messengers should never get try to take any of that well-earned glory from God.
“It feels like the worship we will do in heaven”
A Calvary Catonsville member
Calvary Chapel believes in worshipping the Lord through song with all of our hearts, minds, and souls. Though we certainly respect other traditions, we tend to enjoy contemporary Christian worship and have since the Movement began. Chuck Smith was faced with a choice at the very start. Choirs and organs were more his style and what he was comfortable with in church. Yet, the newly saved young people were bringing their guitars, drums and other instruments into the church and praising Jesus in their own unique way musically. The choice was to stick with what Chuck was comfortable with or let the children of the Lord praise Him in the own style of song. Since organs were not around during Jesus’ time, choirs are not required by the Bible and the joy for Jesus was being clearly expressed in the music, the musical ministry of the church changed to express the style of the time. Today, this looks like different sizes and styles of worship bands in the churches. They are all united, though, in their desire to point all attention to Jesus and to praise His name in song.
Rock Solid Bible Teaching
“When I hear a Calvary Chapel pastor teaching, I feel peace”
A Calvary Catonsville member
Calvary Chapel does not just teach about the Bible or biblical principles. We teach the Bible, line by line, verse by verse. It is not a motivational seminar or corporate training outing. It is not the same as a concert. On Sunday mornings at Calvary Catonsville, for example, we are studying through the Gospel of Matthew so we started at chapter 1, verse 1 and teach our way building line upon line through God’s Word. We look at the context and the meaning of the verses, how they applied to the lives of the people in Jesus’ day as well as how to apply them to our lives. We believe that God revealed Himself through the Old and New Testament and study them to get to know Him better We rely upon God’s Spirit through God’s Word to provide the wisdom and direction we need to live as disciples of Jesus. Some may not agree with a particular interpretation of a passage of the Bible, but they can never say that we don’t have a Biblical basis for it.
In short, Calvary Chapel loves the Lord so we teach His Word. It is the lamp for our feet and light for our path.
So What is Calvary Chapel?
Aside from its wonderful history, Calvary Chapel is a place to come if you are Christian who seeks to know Jesus better. It is a place for those who are seeking a real church family with others looking to follow God without apology. It is a place of joy, love, and hope in the Lord. We at Calvary Catonsville have seen the Lord grow u sso much as individuals and as a fellowship, we want to pass that on to others.
It is a place where God’s sheep come to be fed.
Won’t you come and join us today?
For More information on Calvary Catonsville, click here.
For Service Times and directions, here.
For questions, please call:
Pastor Tom Neary
5695 Main St
Elkridge, Maryland 21075
To find a Calvary Chapel near you: