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How Your Emerging Church Can Stay in Calvary Chapel, Inc

You LOVE being in the Calvary Chapel fellowship of churches but are scared that your emerging church style worship will get you kicked out. I feel your pain and understand the tension. CC a great fellowship with an incredible history. In fact, my wife grew up in SoCal and was a regular at the Costa Mesa events during her college years.

Roger Oakland recently gave a clear summary of Chuck Smith Snr's stand on the emerging church and why "no Calvary Chapel pastor heading down the Emerging Church road movement would be permitted to use the name of Calvary Chapel. . . "
"We have great problems with the use of icons to give them (Emerging Church) a sense of God or the presence of God. If they want to have a tie with the historicity of the church, why not go back to the church in Acts, which seems to devoid of incense, candles, robes etc., but was filled with the Spirit." PDF, the skinny

But wait . . . before you blow out those candles and dismantle your alt. worship stations, there may be a workaround for multi-meida contemplative worship in the Calvary Chapel world.

- You could always appeal to the Second Council of Nicea 787 which names 'the pictoral icons" as something good which the church has received. But they may not appreciate church history as much as you do.

- You could appeal to Jean Luc Marion's treatise of icon vs. idol in his excellent book "The Crossing of the Visible" [clue: idols receive the 'gaze' but icons pass it on to the subject of worship] but they may not have read Marion.

- Or . . . and this might be the best idea .. . you could just set up your worship within the boundaries of acceptable Calvary Chapel practice. This sphere might actually be larger than you think and does, in fact, include space for iconic stations . . . but you have to use CC language to get away with it.

Here's the deal. I am pretty sure that Calvary Chapel, Inc will allow you to set up a "display that represents a religious viewpoint". I say this because Calvary Chapel insisted on using a multi-media station in a Christmas celebration consisting of a two-mile long Holiday Fantasy of Lights a few years ago. I was reading this on Christianity Today and since then have found the incident all over the internet.

- see Calvary Chapel Church, Inc. v. Broward County, 299 F. Supp. 2d 1295 (S.D. Fla. 2003) (holding that Broward County must include Calvary Chapel’s “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” display in its annual “Holiday Fantasy of Lights” event so long as the display identifies the Church as the speaker) [link]

What i am saying is that your multi-media worship display might be, as is was for a Calvary Chapel in Florida, a "constitutionally-protected private religious speech" (link)

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You could certainly get away with it at Christmas time. Other churches do. And many Christian families set up nativity scenes which is one of the more acceptable forms of iconic worship in USA . .. OK the CROSS is a more acceptable icon . .. fair enough. . .. and the American flag in churches (which causes my Brit friends to suspect syncretism in the American church) . . but lets NOT go there right now. Especially since Calvary Chapel is involved in a ministry called Project Prayer Flag and is probably quite protective of this particular icon.

image from Project Prayer Flag. "Project Prayer Flag is a grass roots military support project, which places American Flags, inspirational bookmarks and letters of support; into the hands of those who are serving in the military." Link

Whats a nativity scene?
Well, its a Catholic innovation usually attributed to Francis of Assisi who set up a Christmas "altar" one year (1223?) to make a dramatic point, Quite a good idea, actually, and it caught on. Real animals are too smelly and too big for many churches and houses so setting up a small scene to contempla . . oops . . . i mean . . . PONDER in our hearts the significance of the birth of Jesus, is a more realistic option.

But you would not use the word 'nativity' or "creche" [and NEVER, EVER, EVER say "altar"] in the Calvary Chapel world, just as you would use "display" rather than "station"
and "meditate" rather than "contemplate"
. .. . but you know that already.

And also, if you want to take your worship further than displays and banners, you can find all kinds of interactive worship experiences in Calvary Chapel's childrens cirriculum - like this one on The Wise Men (PDF). These highly participatory worship games, puzzles and artistic experiences would work really well.

So . . . enjoy your stay in the Calvary Chapel, even if you have to run Christmas services all year long.

What about a name for your emerging church service? How about . . . alt:erNativity?

And if things get really tense for you, and CC bans all iconic forms from your worship - then . . hey . . . who needs them anyway? They dont really usher in the presence of God - despite what the CC report says about emerging church beliefs - and Chuck Smith Snr is correct when he says that the early church did not use these icons.
Although I would fight for the Lord's Supper and for baptism [which the early church DID employ]. And I would probably present, as my Baptist ancestors did, a strongly Biblical case for both, but everything else can be taken away and you can still get by. And if iconic cleansing is going to start in CC churches, then . . . and this is just a suggestion . . . maybe that FLAG should be taken out before the Cross.

Marine 1
[In moments like these . . . ]
image from Project Prayer Flag

Related: The Chuck Smiths on Emerging Church