Pulling the carpet out from under American culture

When I taught the missions classes at CCBC in Murrieta from 1997 to 2000, I absolutely loved the assembly at the beginning of each semester when the instructors were introduced to the students. But it wasn’t being introduced that was so pleasureable to me. It was watching the faces of the students when Pastor Chuck got up behind the podium to welcome everyone. They were in awe at this incredible man of God and the way God had used him over the years.

Here were all of these young people dressed pretty much whatever way they wanted, with various lengths and styles of hair and piercings of various kinds on display in all kinds of interesting places. They were so excited to hear from one of the key figures of the Jesus Movement.

Every one of them knew this was the man that reached out and loved on young people and hippies just the way they were. This was THE key man that God used to begin a church movement that was built on rebels to the status quo. The man of God who made no big deal about the way people looked, the style of music they enjoyed, or most of the language they used. This was the guy who made clear that the people attached to the bare feet were more important than the carpeting in the sanctuary.

As Pastor Chuck began speaking these young people hung on every word. It was amazing to watch.

But then, after welcoming them and sharing his excitement about them being there, he basically pulled the carpet out from under them. Ohhh, the looks on their faces when he said something to this effect:

“….and by the way. Young men, as students at this bible college, the only place a ring a should be seen on you is on one or more of your fingers. Not on your ears, in your nose, or anywhere else. Young women, rings should only be on your ear lobes or on your fingers. Pay attention to what the majority of people outside the grounds of this college look like. Change, if necessary, for the sake of the message.”

It was incredible to watch the wind go out of the sails of so many students. I would talk to many of them later in the afternoon or over the next few days. They said they were disappointed at the “legalism” that had obviously overtaken Pastor Chuck and the Calvary movement. A few of them decided they just couldn’t go to a school that obviously majored on such minor things.

Needless to say, I agreed with Pastor Chuck. Obviously, he knew that you can challenge and even demand things from those who say they follow Jesus that you can’t, and shouldn’t from those who are just checking Him out or who have recently decided to begin following Him. Brilliant. Mission-like.

One of the reasons I rejoiced at Pastor Chuck’s admonishment was because during my time on the mission field in the Philippines I ran into way too many Christians from America, including Calvary Chapel missionaries and visiting senior pastors, that had a similar attitude to these students. They obviously weren’t paying attention to some of the ways Pastor Chuck actually ministered over the years. Instead, they lived with an American cultural trait that they had come to believe was actually acceptable in the Kingdom of God.

Here’s the most succinct way I can express it:

The individualist aspect of American culture produces a mindset, an attitude, and then actions that communicate the following:

“My individual need to express myself in the way I feel most comfortable with is what is ultimately important”.

“Because of this, it is your responsibility to accept me the way I am”.

“I have a message I would like you to hear, in fact, that you NEED to hear”.

“Now, if there is anything about me, including my hairstyle, dress, or language that might distract from this great message I have for you, it is your responsibility to sift through it and then pay attention to this great message”.

“I have no responsibility to change anything about me in order for this great message to be more easily understood by you”.

“When you’ve grasped and responded to this great message, you’ll be set free from sin and self, just like I am”.

Is it possible that this accepted cultural trait is also a contributor to the issue Chuck M. brought up regarding Millennials and their view of drinking?

How does this kind of thinking square with Phil 2:3-11 and many other texts?

20 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Jeff – I didn’t know this was part of freshman orientation at CCBC. For the sake of discussion and helping me understand this, what would have happened if Pastor Chuck had told ministry students in 1972 to cut their hair/change their clothes/switch their music? Is there a moral/cultural equivalency between long hair then and piercings now, between ‘hippy’ clothes then and tattoos now? If so, what is it? If not, what is the difference? Are piercings worldly and long hair wasn’t?

    This isn’t for sake of argument, but clarification. I understand that these are ministry students and not just general congregants. I know that Pastor Chuck has the authority to call for this, and I may have the same preferences as he, but I am trying to understand the underlying principle behind it. Actually, you state the underlying reason, but I am having a hard time applying this to the culture of 1971. I see the lifestyle preferences and choices of the original Jesus Movement people as being as individualistically motivated as anyone today. Individualism isn’t a recent phenomenon.

    Thanks, Jeff (I will now remove my nose ring and sandblast off my cross tattoo)

    Reply
    • Jeff Jackson
      Jeff Jackson says:

      Hi Tim,

      I never talked to Chuck to ask him about the motivation for saying what he said, so I can only speculate.

      My guess is that his motivation would be similar to mine. The bible college was there to ground people in the Word of God and the God of the Word and to prepare them to serve and the students go in knowing that. Supposedly they arrive with a level of maturity that has brought them to the point of being equipped to serve and love them. Maturity, love, and service mean self-sacrifice, (which you so eloquently laid out in your post the other day). Which basically means that your self-expression is part of the self that needs to be sacrificed, for the glory of God and the good of others.

      I would also speculate that the context CCBC sits in, very suburbanite, was also a major consideration. Removing as many obstacles as possibles for the light to shine in the surrounding area.

      You’re right, American individualism and the need for self-expression it produces didn’t begin recently, even the history of missions give evidence of that, (and even worse….passing on that need for self-expression as normal to people of other cultures that it isn’t a part of).

      Careful on the sandblasting of the tatoo…very painful from what I hear! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Great word Jeff…
    We sometimes hear these same kinds of objections from young ladies who dress a bit on the racy side. When sharing with them that their choice of clothes might be a distraction to their brothers, they sometimes say, “Well, that is their problem”.

    Fortunately, that has only been an initial response, and push has never come to shove.

    My wife is especially good at encouraging the ladies to not be a distraction, while maintaining a beautiful appearance.

    Good post.

    Reply
  3. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:

    I attended (for a semester) CCBC in 1998, and remember this. I also remember quite a few people being bothered by it. Didn’t bother me, I still have not tattoos or piercings. 

    When I was in high school I remember going to Calvary’s youth camp at Green Valley. One of our counselors had a red Mohawk… The leadership at the camp almost sent him home as soon as we got there. They even called Pastor Chuck, he wasn’t happy about the Mohawk. 

    I’ve been teaching at CCBC now for 7 years… I don’t think this is a part of orientation any longer. 

    Reply
  4. adam
    adam says:

    Jeff,

    I agree that many of those kids should have the maturity to submit and that our American self expression is at odds with living in community.

    But thinking in line with Eph. 6:4 aren’t you “provoking children to wrath” by legals in a movement birthed grace? The story about the red Mohawk guy is ridiculous but makes the point. He is the hippie of his day and we are the church that rejected the hippies if this is what we have become

    Reply
    • Jon Langley
      Jon Langley says:

      Adam — you know I love you brother, but if asking a disciple of Christ to follow those rules somehow “provokes them to wrath” then they aren’t ready for the training and ministry at that level yet. They truly are “children” who have not yet put away childish things.

      Reply
  5. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    Oh my… I was wondering if this particular event would ever come up on this blog or not.

    First off, Jeff, you know you’ve got me hooked any time you quote from Philippians 2… one of my favorite passages in Scripture. Now regarding the alleged “legalism” of the CCBC rules…

    I’ve gone back and forth with my thoughts on this after first hearing about it a few years ago. I’m not sure if the rules are still exactly the same. I do know that the current info for Students on the website says this, “Our desire is to build up our brothers and sisters by allowing their focus to be on Christ, and not ourselves. Even though we may have the ‘right’ in the eyes of the world to choose how we look, or dress in any way we like, but by the law of love we forfeit all rights to the self-life. This may sound radical, but it is the everyday cost of discipleship.”

    Here’s where I’m at. I attended Point Loma Nazarene for a year. I chose to go there and even paid money (a lot by the way) to do so. I had to sign a contract saying that I wouldn’t DANCE! Yes, I’m being serious for those unfamiliar with our Nazarene flavor of brothers and sisters. I didn’t agree with it, but they had their reasons for it. If nothing else it was a test of being faithful to those elders that God had put over me. And it was only for the duration of time while I was at that school.

    “But,” you might be thinking, “we’re not talking about the proper response of the student. We’re talking about the reason for the rules from the standpoint of the leadership (Chuck Smith).” Okay then… what about that?

    I think that was Jeff’s point exactly! Those who are truly disciples of Christ and have chosen to submit themselves to a school for discipleship and ministry training are implying a desire to follow the words that Christ expressed in Luke 14:25-35; a denial of self and any and all people and things as being more important that Christ. Follow that up with the perfect example of God’s Son giving up His rights and what was “normal” for Him in order to become the man Jesus and you have a great recipe for not just a true disciple, but a disciple on mission.

    Maybe that’s not what the kids coming to CCBC in those days were interested in being, but obviously that’s what CCBC was looking for in it’s student body. Hence the alleged “legalism”.

    I have both heard and personally experienced the very same things Jeff has in the mission field. And they are a direct carry over of the same attitude of crying “legalism, legalism!” I had a younger brother who was a good friend of the family who decided he would wear shorts no matter what as a way of somehow teaching the Tanzaniana to just “get over it”. I won’t even go into all of the reasons why this was terribly, terribly counterproductive (not to mention personally irritating), but it was the same lack of understanding that a true disciple of Christ has been translated into His kingdom and sits at His table. Therefore our culture and manners must be in line with Him and not what WE want.

    I guarantee you to this day that Chuck and CCCM would never turn away a seeker or young pierced and tattooed person, refusing to share the gospel or disciple them. But once a disciple is ready to be trained for ministry, challenging them to go against the “self” is not only wise, but in our culture necessary.

    Reply
  6. adam
    adam says:

    John,

    1. CCBC isnt supposed to be a seminary

    2. apply what you said about denying yourself to hippie preachers. It’s the same as if you told them to cut their hair before being allowed on stage at the concerts or going up to the old twin peaks bible college.

    3. you have an excellent beard

    4. if you’re a Nazarene then not dancing isn’t surprising. If you’re Calvary “come as you are” Chapel, then a legalistic dress code is.

    Reply
  7. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    Adam — I’m glad they get saved, but on the application they said they were already. At least back in the days I was there. It’s not the same as asking the hippie preachers of those days to cut their hair. CCBC is allowed to change and/or enlarge their vision including making a place for those who want to be serious disciples. That’s why I quoted their own literature to make that point. If that’s what they want at CCBC Murrieta then that should be their prerogative. If a multi-pierced person (for example) wants to keep those piercings in place while being discipled there are MANY other CC avenues for discipleship than CCBC. Bottom line… they need to learn to set aside the flesh (in whatever form) as required to follow what God has called them to do.

    Reply
    • Jeff Jackson
      Jeff Jackson says:

      Jon and Adam,

      Thanks for the lively dialogue. This is important stuff to discuss especially in the realm of cross-cultural ministry.

      Jon–the “shorts” issue was a constant challenge in the Philippines too. And what you’ve expressed and the way you’ve expressed it is probably way more effective than I could have. Me thinks we’re brothers from a different mother….or lovers of the Missionary God.

      Reply
  8. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks for the thoughts. As I read your blog, I was thinking, “context.” In the context of SoCal, a much wider range of acceptability goes with piercings, tattoos, etc. In the context of the Philippines, the range is narrower, especially in reference to the distinctives of American culture.

    I love the main thought expressed here, which I take to be: any true disciple (one who lives for Jesus and for the expansion of His kingdom) will, in fact, adjust the externals of his/her life and lifestyle for the sake of the message.

    If someone is unwilling to do that, he/she is not acting as a true disciple. It’s not about legalism or the lack of it, it’s about the Great Commission.

    Reply
  9. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    It is about context, as Bill has already said, and Chuck S has always had a bit of legalistic bent (his background). It was Kay S (& the Holy Spirit) who helped Chuck see past the long hair, etc… and there was plenty of it on staff persons in those days (’68 or so thru early 70’s). However, Chuck has also been criticized for showing “too much” grace from time to time, yet strongly holds to many of his original views.

    Sometimes “rules” bring about internal change because of the challenge it brings to “self” (as Jon pointed out). But, for me, the “carpet being pulled out” is about being challenged to see beyond “self” & our own views of things… something any cross-cultural missionary (whether overseas or “home”) who is clued in to the people & culture around them must be willing to reconsider for reaching those people. Whether it’s Afghanistan or the local tattoo/piercing studio, we need to tune into the Holy Spirit, others around us, and our own self’s tendency to exalt or push itself forward.

    Reply
  10. Gunnar Hanson
    Gunnar Hanson says:

    Okay, I am an outsider looking in at CC concerning this post…and responding from my phone.

    The more I think about this post the more I am bothered by it. From my religious flesh I totally agree with Chuck, but I don’t think there is biblical validation for what he said. It seems like the endorsement of this is religion speaking.

    It seems I read in Chucks book Distinctives that when in doubt, he would always error on the side of grace. His comments here seem to differ.

    I suggest we should be more concerned about characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit and the qualifications that are laid out in Timothy and Titus concerning the qualifications for elders and deacons.

    Okay, I am bracing for the backlash here!

    Reply
  11. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:

    Gunnar–first, thanks for even responding from your phone. I just got an IPhone and even though it does make it easier to write from than my previous phone, it’s still a task to write anything of any length.

    No backlash from me. I agree that our ultimate concern should be about characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit and the qualification mentioned in Timothy and Titus.

    In fact, my view is that one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit and a quality of a leader in training or an existing leader, is a willingness to lay aside their right to personal self-expression to enhance the possibility of their message being heard.

    Although it’s not a direct parallel, I see this kind of heart in Paul’s willingness to be purified with the 4 other Jews in Acts 21:17-26, and in the statement he made in 1 Cor 8:7-13 where he goes as far as saying that he would stop eating meat ever again if it was a source of stumbling to someone who wasn’t as far along in the faith as he was.

    Reply
    • Gunnar Hanson
      Gunnar Hanson says:

      I think another good example for you is that right after Paul defended the believers freedom not to be circumcised, he immediately had Timothy circumcised for the sake of the Gospel to help the religious types hear the message. In your post the inconsistency of Chucks statement sort of ticked me off. Why is it okay to wear rings on your fingers but not anywhere else? Because a culture says that’s okay, not the Bible which is where our reasoning should come from. However, I think I may be missing the heart of what Chuck is saying simply by not understanding the whole context of the situation.

      Reply
  12. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    “a willingness to lay aside their right to personal self-expression to enhance the possibility of their message being heard”

    That’s the key for me (whether it was/is for CS or not).

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply to Miles DeBenedictis Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *