Pastor Greg Laurie. Right next to me. This morning. Ordering coffee. He’s one of America’s most recognized Christian evangelists. And I don’t know what to think.
Because for decades, from the lips of Pastor Greg, and a whole slew of Calvary Chapel pastors, I heard of some of the most vitriolic slander. Public castigation. From their pulpits, on their radio station, in their books.
I haven’t listed to them in decades. But I remember them.
They usually sounded mean. Angry. Arrogant. Very certain about a faith that is full of mystery.
Many of their issues were against other Christians.
Chuck Smith was the leader of Calvary Chapel. He died a few years ago. I remember listening to KWVE, the Calvary Chapel radio station. I was in my early 20’s. “Pastor Chuck” hosted a call-in program. Callers would ask him questions about theological issues. They would also ask about Christian leaders, and Christian denominations, and Christian movements.
Chuck never embraced the ambiguities of faith. Uncertainty is not a hallmark of the Calvary Chapel movement. Neither was intellectual humility. Pastor Chuck would tell callers, in no uncertain terms, which people were right, and which people were wrong. Which movements were good, and which movements were bad.
He always had a Bible verse to backup his opinions, including the ones about Jesus coming back within a year or two.
Jesus never came back.
It never occurred to the callers that the Calvary Chapel leaders had appointed themselves to monitor the practices of Christians around the world.
I remember callers asking about my church. They’d ask about my pastor, John Wimber. John was the leader of The Vineyard movement, a group of hundreds of churches around the world. I happened to work for John’s music publishing company, Vineyard Music Group.
The Vineyard was a charismatic denomination. It didn’t just adhere to a theology of supernatural reality; it practiced a spirituality that prayed for and expected physical and emotional healing. John Wimber saw such healing as a central part of the ministry of Jesus — relieving human suffering.
John saw physical and emotional healing as central form of social justice.
But faith in miracles confused a bunch of Christians; the supernatural world can be weird. And when you welcome broken and emotionally damaged people for prayer, they show up. In droves. And they can act weird.
For years I remember listening to KWVE. I remember Chuck Smith ripping into John Wimber, and the Vineyard movement. I remember the prominent Calvary leaders, including Greg Laurie, doing the same during their Sunday sermons — sermons which were broadcasted on KWVE all day long, 7 days a week, across the country.
The Calvary leaders didn’t just go after The Vineyard. They went after outsiders, people who practiced a Christian faith that just happned to be unlike the Calvary Chapel version.
Jesus was different that Pastor Chuck. One day his closest friend, John, got bent out of shape: “Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us.” John was looking for Jesus to launch into an attack on those other Christ followers — the ones that weren’t doing things “right.”
The beloved disciple was looking for Jesus to criticize the outsiders.
Jesus didn’t take the bait: “But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you.'”
One time I was in a meeting with John. A staff member was very upset. He had just heard a KWVE broadcast. One of the Calvary pastors was, yet again, attacking John on the radio. “John, can you believe these guys? Why don’t you respond? They are slandering you to millions of people, week in and week out.”
I knew what was coming. John had his flaws. But he never hated anyone. And he was for church unity. Behind the scenes, I knew a gentle, humble man, one I’d see cry in private meetings, when he’d hear of the tragedies of life, of death and disease.
One who often stood in front of thousands and admitted when he had made a mistake.
An authenticity that was contagious to me, and that I try to replicate in my own faith journey today.
John, tears in his eyes: “Pray for them. They are not our enemies. Your brother or sister is never your enemy. The enemy is the enemy.”
End of conversation.
We then walked into the warehouse on the church grounds. Tens of thousands of square feet, packed with food and clothing for a ministry that the Anaheim Vineyard pioneered to serve the poorest of the poor in Orange County. On Sundays, there’d be lines of people, hundreds upon hundreds, given food and clothing. Every Sunday vans would be loaded to disperse care packages into the poorest apartment communities.
John saw a sick child. Just a few months old. It was cold. She was coughing. She was held by her Hispanic mother that spoke no English. With this gracious smile and crystal clear loving eyes, John looked at them. He gently reached out a hand and prayed for the child. The mother cried.
No Bible verse. No slander. No radio station.
I’m not sure what those Calvary leaders talk about these days.
But I hope they’ve chilled.
He that is not against you is for you.
That’s the kind of Christianity I want.