The Joy of the Law

For the last 6 weeks I’ve been teaching a series at Calvary Escondido entitled “The Key to Unlocking Joy.” We’re finishing the series this Sunday, Christmas morning, with a message called “Joy to the World.”

My main thesis over the last 6 weeks has been that Jesus has opened the way into fullness of joy, but not all Christians experience increasing joy, unto it’s fullness, in their daily Christian journey.  Jesus said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11).  Evidently God desires that our joy would be full [in Him], for our fullness of joy in Him, is glorifying to Him.  In other words, God is passionate about our joy, because He is zealous for His glory.  So then, how does the believer promote the increase of joy in their life?

The scripture is replete with exhortations and encouragements to this end.  We have in our series looked at three promoters – if you will – of our joy in God; gratitude, giving and serving.  Since I won’t be able, in our series, to cover another important promoter of our joy, I thought it good to post an appendix here at Cross Connection.

Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he meditate day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

The word “blessed” in Psalm 1:1 could also be translated “happy.”  We could therefore literally read this verse, “Happy is the man who walks not…” Thus, we can promote the increase of our joy in God by avoiding the way of ungodly sinfulness in our lives.  Further more, God’s law becomes our joyful delight as we meditate in and upon it day and night.  It is incredibly important that we not fail to recognize that all of God’s commands in the bible are ultimately promises for our joy.  Important, as it is difficult for us to actually believe that His law can become our delight.

Prior to conversion many people see God’s law as the killer of joy, not the promoter of it.  Our flesh is convinced that happiness is found in sex, and drink, and whatever other means that has pleasure as it’s end.  When a sinner is saved by grace and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, their [wrong] thinking is not wholly reformed at conversion; not at all.  Some carry into their Christian life the view that God means to remove all those things which bring happiness, because “all of those things are sinful.”  Don’t get me wrong, many of those things, in the wrong context, are in fact sinful.  The problem is that we quickly buy the lie, which the enemy is happy to sell us, that those things actually bring us [lasting] happiness.

There is pleasure in sin, but it is quickly passing and ultimately ends in joyless guilt.  Continuing in sin as a Christian bears this truth to reality in our lives; if you want to be a joyless disciple, persist in sin.  But, if we will reject the wisdom of the world, in favor of the wisdom of God, we will find that His law promotes our joy and therefore it [the law] becomes our delight.

Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.  Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.  This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.  Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

Joshua 1:6-9

Calvary Chapel: D+

I recognize that this title is a bit provactive. It is not written merely to be so. Perhaps I could have entitled it “Calvary Chapel D3,” but “D+” actually does a better job of presenting what I see as a problem.

I’ve been a part of the Calvary Chapel Movement since I was 11 years old. Almost my entire Christian experience has been within the Calvary style of ministry. I’ve served in full-time vocational ministry within Calvary Chapel for nearly 13 years in many different capacities. I’ve served as a youth pastor, assistant pastor and now senior pastor at Calvary Escondido. I’ve taught at Calvary Chapel Bible Colleges in Siegen, Germany; Murrieta, California and Costa Mesa. I assisted with Worship Generation at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa back in 2000 and 2001. I’ve been privileged to work alongside men who I consider to be giants in the faith. But my heart has been troubled over the last several years to see certain shifts within this great movement. Troubled as we, the Calvary Chapel Movement, have become detached, disengaged and defensive.

I am still in awe that I have been given the opportunity to teach at Calvary Chapel Bible College for the last 8 years. What began as a wishful desire has become a regular part of my routine. This semester I had the largest class I’ve had to date, nearly a 100 students. Most of those students are in their last semesters at the school. They are preparing to go into “the ministry.” In my interaction with them I am amazed how detached they are from the larger work of God through the [non-Calvary Chapel] church. I realize that this is likely a reality within many such institutions. Two examples of this immediately come to mind.

Early in this last semester I had made a passing comment about the work being done by Acts29 and Mark Driscoll. I was stopped by raised hand within 30 seconds, “What’s Acts29 and who is Mark Driscoll?” I asked my students, “How many of you know what Acts29 is and about Mark Driscoll?” I think 2 people, out of a hundred, raised their hands.

Just a couple of weeks ago, in talking about eschatology (I rotate between teaching Isaiah and Jeremiah at the college) I made reference to amillennial and preterist doctrine; again I was stopped, “What is that?” Again I asked, “How many of you know what these things are?” Blank stares abounded.

My point is not that everyone should know of Acts29 or Mark Driscoll, or that all Christians should have a good grasp of preterism and amillennial theology, but that we, the leadership and future leaders of the movement are a bit detached from the larger work of the church and what is happening in current ecclesiology in our own sphere. If 3rd and 4th semester Bible College students at our movement’s primary school have no clue about the opposing eschatological views within Christendom, in a movement which has, as one of it’s primary distinctives, a pre-millennial and pre-tribulational eschatology, there’s a problem.

One of the primary curricula at CCBC is listening to audio tracks of Pastor Chuck Smith’s through the bible series, recorded in the 1970’s & 1980’s. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. I love Pastor Chuck Smith and greatly appreciate his ministry. I don’t know that I’d be in the ministry today if it were not for his clear exhortation to serve and follow God given at a youth camp I attended as a sophomore in high school. Be that as it may, I do not believe this emphasis to be helpful, for several reasons.

  1. It breeds the kind of personality cult which Paul preaches against in 1 Corinthians
  2. It produces students with an incredibly limited scope of biblical understanding
  3. It produces teachers that tend to parrot what they’ve heard, rather than rightly dividing the word of truth.
  4. It creates (not at all intentionally) defensiveness toward anyone who disagrees with Pastor Chuck’s position
  5. It creates a cultural frame of reference that is about 30-40 years outdated

Given enough time I could probably come up with a dozen or more additional reasons. I realize that by writing such things I’m opening myself up to get slammed. I pray that that will not be the case. Speaking to students at the Bible College and pastors throughout our movement I find many times over that we’ve become detached from the the larger work of the church. This detachment is not at all intentional. A couple of months ago I had an opportunity to meet and interact with Ed Stetzer on the topic of Calvary Chapel, he observed very much the same detachment when told me, “Calvary Chapel has become insular.” His words were in no way antagonistic; rather he expressed them with a bit of sorrow. Unfortunately I believe his observation to be spot on. It is grieving when I meet pastors from outside Calvary who say to me, “What has happened to Calvary?” My answer to Ed Stetzer and many others who have expressed such concern has been, “We’ve begun to define ourselves by what we’re against on not by what we’re about.”

Our detachment has lead to a defensiveness toward other theological positions and a disengagement from our original mission. In seeking to clearly articulate what a Calvary Chapel is we’ve opted to tell everyone what we are not, instead of showing people who we are. “We are not Calvinists,” “we are not emergent,” “we are not seeker,” “We don’t like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, etc…” There was a time where defining exactly what a Calvary Chapel was wasn’t entirely easy, but those on the outside of the movement couldn’t argue against what they were witnessing. Sinners were being saved and transformed into saints who went on to plant churches, lots of them; and many of them became the largest in the nation. Yes, on some levels that is still happening, but it is much harder to be “Calvary” in 2011 than it was in 1991, or even 2001. In defining who we aren’t I believe we’ve lost sight of what we’re truly are all about.

Sure, there are things that are distinctively “Calvary Chapel,” but mostly we’ve been a non-denominational, bible believing/preaching movement that makes disciples and plants churches. The question is, can we move through this awkward grumpy old man stage and reengage on the offensive for the cause of the Kingdom, and not be distinctively detached, disengaged and defensive?

Alright give it to me… but remember I’m sleep deprived having just brought my wife and our 3rd baby home from the hospital within the last 48 hours 😉

Evangeline Grace DeBenedictis
December 6, 2011
7lbs 13oz