A Conversation With Chuck Smith
December 1, 2002 - Chuck Smith's evangelistic outreach began as a ministry to hippies. Then, more than 30 years ago, he felt the Lord calling him from Corona, California, to Costa Mesa to begin the ministry of Calvary Chapel. Now there are more than 1,000 Calvary Chapels in the United States and more than 500 International Calvary Chapels. What happened to this fellowship is a testimony of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to build His Church.
by Jim Dailey
Q/ Chuck, you started ministering to the hippie generation in California many years ago at a time when most of the adult culture viewed them suspiciously at best. Why?
A/ The area in California where I lived was a mecca for these hippies. They flooded in by the thousands. These young people were searching for love and peace. They had denounced the material world as incapable of bringing the love and the peace for which they were searching. Many of them came from very affluent homes where they had everything they could dream of or hope for in a material sense. But in the midst of all that they saw divorced parents and their country at war. They realized that there was no real love or peace. But so often when a person is pursuing something, they look in the wrong place to find it. Drugs provided them with a pseudo-spiritual experience and a sense of peace. It wasn't long before they discovered that their new lifestyle was flawed as well. For instance, they would keep their stash of drugs in a commune, and someone would steal it. They became disillusioned with the movement because it had made big promises, but it wasn't fulfilling them.
My wife had a real burden for these kids, because we had our own teenagers at the time. Ultimately, we opened a communal house where we began to explain the Gospel. The message we gave was the message of Christ, a message of true love and peace. The young people embraced the message of Jesus.
After our first Christian communal house had operated for about two weeks, 35 young people accepted Christ and moved out of the hippie communal houses and into our Christian environment. We ran out of room. Kids were sleeping wall-to-wall. One kid was sleeping in the bathtub.
There were such radical, dramatic changes in these young people that school administrators came to find out what was going on. Kids that had dropped out of school returned. The police, who had had such problems with these kids, came to find out what was happening. Judges came to us because the youth on their caseloads were changing. The church began as a movement among the young people, but then it spread to the parents, grandparents, judges, police and others. It began to balance out through the community.
Q/ How do you keep the Gospel relevant to today's generation?
A/ There is still emptiness within people, and they attempt to fill that with things that do not satisfy. Jesus said to the woman at the well, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again" (John 4:13, NKJV). I tell people to write this Scripture over the top of their ambition, over every goal they set for their lives. No ambition is going to satisfy their thirst, because it is a spiritual thirst. Man is a three-fold being—body, soul and spirit. We have physical thirst. We have emotional thirst for love, security and the need to be needed. Then way down, deep inside, we have a thirst for God. In Romans 8, Paul said, "The creature was made subject to vanity" (Romans 8:20, KJV). God created a spiritual thirst that only He can quench. The problem is that people are trying to quench a spiritual thirst with a physical or emotional experience. It can't be done, even as you can't fill a physical thirst with an emotional experience.
Q/ How does the Church learn to accept those around us and not condemn them?
A/ When we first came to Calvary Chapel in 1965, I began to teach through the Bible starting at the First Epistle of John. In this book, John gives us proofs of the Christian life: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar," (1 John 4:20, KJV) and "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:6, NKJV). The book illustrated for the church the difference between saying something and the reality of it. When the first hippie stepped through the door, it was a test: "Do I really love the Lord? Am I willing to embrace and accept someone who has a totally different set of values than I have?" It was a great test for the congregation. By the grace of God, they passed it. We were able to make church relevant to them. I began to teach in someone's home on Monday nights. We dressed casually. The study outgrew the home, and when we moved it to a church building, I continued to dress casually. I sat on a stool on the platform instead of behind a pulpit, speaking with them as if I were still in a living room. We took them from the home into the church by bringing that casual environment into the church.
Q/ What keeps you motivated at age 75?
A/ I love to see the work of the Holy Spirit in the transformation of lives. I am still after the young people. We built a youth camp and have had some 184,000 kids go through there. I love being with the kids up there, sitting down with them and talking about God. It's exciting to see them awaken to the things of God. That's why I love the outdoor environment of the camp. "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard" (Psalm 19:1-3, NKJV). It's a universal language God speaks to us through nature. In the city, the youth can't see the heavens because of the smog. They see streets and buildings rather than trees, flowers, deer and squirrels. Helping them see the handiwork of God in creation paves the way to hearing the voice of God through His Word.
Q/ What advice would you give to a new believer?
A/ Jesus said three things. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28, KJV). If a person has come to Christ, they have taken the first step. The second step is to "Take my yoke upon you" (Matthew 11:29, KJV). I explain to a new believer that a yoke is something that was put on an ox so it could pull a plow. The Lord is saying, "I have work for you to do. Now yield and surrender yourself to me that I might guide you, and that I might direct your life." A new believer needs to turn his or her life over to Him. Third, "learn of Me" (Matthew 11:29, KJV). The most important thing in the world is to learn about Jesus Christ. There is only one place that one can really do that—in the Bible. I usually encourage new believers to learn about Jesus by reading the Gospel of John in the New Testament. They should get into the Word as quickly as possible and experience the Holy Spirit unfolding the Scriptures to their heart.
Q/ Tell me about Calvary Chapel, which you founded in 1965 and now has hundreds of affiliated churches.
A/ When the nets are so full that you can't draw them in, we know that there is only one explanation—it is the Lord. It has been an exciting ride to watch what God is doing. I feel like a spectator sitting in the grandstand, watching this marvelous work of God. It is again the Word of God planted in the hearts of these kids and planted on good soil, bringing forth fruit 30, 60 and 100 fold.
The exciting thing is that it is going into the next generation. We just recently brought on staff two of our pastors who have been serving for more than 25 years. They have developed and pastored very successful churches. I brought them back to be assistants to me in Costa Mesa. In both cases their sons took over their churches. It is a thrill to see the sons doing the same things that their fathers did, which is teaching the Word of God simply. The Book of Nehemiah gives us the pattern: "They read [the scriptures], making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read" (Nehemiah 8:8, NIV).
Q/ What would you say to pastors today?
A/ Teach the Word simply. When people say that they think that the Lord is calling them into the ministry, I tell them to volunteer to teach the third-grade Sunday school class. If you can make Scripture attractive and interesting to them, then you can make it attractive to anyone!
Q/ We are approaching the Christmas season. What is so important about the miraculous birth of Christ?
A/ That's the heart of the message of the Gospel. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ in order to redeem man from his sinful state. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14, NKJV). It's a miracle and the message of the Gospel.
Q/ What are some of the thoughts that you reflect on during Christmas?
A/ Often I find myself focusing on God, the Giver and on Christ Jesus who became for awhile "a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death" (Hebrews 2:9, NKJV). Jesus said, "I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me" (John 5:30, NKJV). The Father and the Son worked in concert to bring redemption. I often wonder who hurt the most: the Father who gave the Son, or the Son who suffered? I try to see myself as a father in that position. Would I be willing to give my sons for someone else? I could see giving myself but not my sons.
I see the heart of the Father, and yet in the Son I see willingness to be obedient, "Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:6-7, NKJV). I see the Son in obedience when I hear the prayer in the garden where He said, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39, NKJV). The Epistle to the Hebrews says that Jesus, "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2, NKJV). If man could be saved by being religious, or by any other means than Jesus Christ, Jesus would not have gone to the cross. The cross speaks to us very powerfully: there is only one way for us to reach God. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, NKJV). Jesus' coming to earth was in full submission to the Father. He despised the method by which the redemption had to come, but He was willing for love's sake to submit to it.