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Calvary Chapel and the Calvinists

By Rev. Jason J. Stellman


See also part 2.


On more than one occasion, upon hearing that I was removed from the ministry of Calvary Chapel in Hungary for my Calvinistic convictions, I have received the response, "No way! You're one of those guys? I've heard rumors about this, but never the official story... What happened?" So in the interest of setting the record straight, I'll offer my own version of what transpired in early 2000.


Please keep in mind, however, that I harbor no bitterness or ill-will toward Calvary Chapel or Chuck Smith; if our relationship had not been severed I would never have found my way to Westminster Seminary (where I received my M.Div.) or to the Presbyterian Church in America (where I am currently a minister).


So here goes....


I began attending Calvary Costa Mesa in 1989 as a sophomore at Calvary Chapel High School. Upon graduating I, along with two others, was sent as a missionary from Calvary Chapel to Uganda, where I served until 1992. After my return I was hired on staff at CCCM as an assistant high school pastor, and I served in this capacity until 1994 when I departed, again as a Calvary missionary, to Hungary. I was the first CC missionary in Budapest, where I helped lay the ground work for the Calvary Chapel that would soon be planted there under the leadership of Greg Opean. As assistant pastor of Calvary Chapel of Budapest my responsibilities included preaching, administering and teaching in the Calvary Chapel Bible School which we had started, discipleship, and various other duties. I look back upon this time as one of the most blessed and happy periods of my life.




Scripture caught my eye...


One Sunday morning in church in 1996 my eye caught a passage of Scripture that I had read countless times: "There are none who seek after God" (Rom 3:11). The power of this statement began to dawn on me as I realized that, if this is indeed true, then none could be saved unless God first sought them in some kind of effectual way. But the fact that some are saved and not all demanded that God draws some unto himself and not others (a notion horrifying to me at the time). Upon getting ahold of A.W. Pink's The Sovereignty of God and R.C. Sproul's Chosen by God, and after some weeks of restless nights wrestling with these ideas, I came to acquiesce in the "doctrines of grace" (albeit relunctantly).


Meeting with Brian Brodersen


Soon afterwards I sat down with Brian Brodersen, with whom I had developed a good friendship, and explained to him about this paradigm shift in my understanding of the Bible, and also let him know that I would submit to whatever decision about me that he thought appropriate. He told me that he had suspicions that I had become a Calvinist, and that he saw no need to ask me to step down. Instead, he suggested, we ought to keep in close communication about these things -- together with the other two newly-converted Calvinist Calvary pastors -- and try to coexist (a decision he later called "an experiment"). All seemed well for the next couple of years; each time I had a question, issue, or new development in my theology I would either sit down with or email Brian and we would hash it out.


Demand to Renounce Calvinism


Then in early 2000, seemingly out of nowhere, we received word from Brian that he was moving from London back to Costa Mesa and our current arrangement must come to an end: either we would have to renounce Calvinism or leave Calvary Chapel. This came as quite a shock to me, since only a few weeks earlier Brodersen had reiterated, in the strongest language possible, that we were "his guys," and that any negative feedback about us would have to go through him before it got to Chuck. Needless to say, the other two pastors and I were reeling from the news. For my own part, my plan was to spend the next six months raising up a Hungarian man to take over the Calvary I was now pastoring and to end my six-year ministry in Hungary in the right way, i.e. slowly, carefully, and with lots of good-byes.




Cut off from CCCM Missions


A week later I received an email from a supporter who informed me that he had sent a check to Costa Mesa for me, but it had been returned with a letter from the missions pastor, Bob Haag, stating that my wife and I were no longer Calvary Chapel missionaries. This was the first I had heard of this, but a phone call to CCCM confirmed that this was the case. Bob told me that Chuck himself had called him to inform him of his decision, and that he (Bob) "had a letter he's been meaning to send me about it," and he hadn't called since he "didn't have long distance phone privileges" (something one would think would be an important detail for a missions pastor). With this new development, my wife and I had no choice but to give all our things away, pack, and leave a week or so later (on our own dime).


One of the (many) things that made this upheaval so difficult was that the man whose complaint to Chuck ended up being the final nail in our coffin was Al James, the pastor of a CC in Arizona who had never even met any of us. His main concern, it seemed, was to prove to Chuck how proudly he could wave the Calvary Chapel banner, and in the process, he caused half of the Hungarian Calvary Chapels to lose their pastors. To make matters worse, this same man was in the process of publicly defending another Arizona Calvary pastor who had, admittedly, been unfaithful to his wife (adultery, apparently, is OK as long as you stay out of the TULIPs).


Why speak out?


There's much more that could be said, but I think I've said enough. My reason for agreeing to go on the record with this is so that those involved in Calvary Chapel can see the effects of following a single man, and the painful results of disagreeing with that man's ex cathedra pronouncements of what is "essential" to biblical faith and legitimate gospel ministry. When an organization as large and powerful as Calvary Chapel is utterly devoid of checks and balances or doctrinal, financial, and moral accountability, the results will not be surprising: abuse, power-struggles, and the oft-unspoken fear of raising even the smallest objection to the whims of the powers that be.


Rev. Jason J. Stellman

Pastor and Church Planter

Exile Presbyterian Church

Woodinville, WA





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