Pastor Chuck Smith: Double Honor

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.

I Timothy 5:17

 Chuck Smith

    If a man impresses you, you admire him. If he equips you, you bless him. And if he’s both impressed and equipped you, he must have been Chuck Smith.


This morning Pastor Chuck, renowned Bible teacher, founder of Calvary Chapel, and father of what’s often called the ‘Jesus movement’, left us to be with Him. We saw it coming – his battles with cancer were well publicized – but still, life without Chuck seemed inconceivable. There are certain rocks we illogically assume can never be moved, and for millions of us, the shifting of this rock from earth to glory constitutes a weird kind of earthquake, leaving us devastated and grateful all at once. Of course we’re grateful his pain is over, and that everything he’s so faithfully taught us is now, for him, fully realized. But devastated because he was, for many of us, one of the few voices of instruction and authority we consistently relied on.

I first came to rely on that voice 42 years ago, when as a long haired 16 year old I sat on the floor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, a building far too small for the hundreds of us huddled together in 1971, but what did we care? We were, for the most part, newly born again kids, thrilled to come together for worship and teaching from Papa Chuck, a title I don’t think he relished but one which fit him to perfection.

Those days, to get a seat in the pews you had arrive at least an hour early, and since the drive from my home to Calvary was also an hour, I never did make it there in time to sample the pews and thus got used to the carpet. There I sat four to five times weekly, drinking in first the milk then the meat of the word, so carefully prepared and clearly explained by one of the best communicators I will ever know.

Thankfully, Chuck fiercely believed in simple expository teaching. To attend Calvary Chapel was, and is, to hear the Word, and to be exhorted to study it as the ultimate measure by which all things in life are judged. In these foggy days when doctrine gets treated so casually, it’s good to recall the reverence he taught us for scripture, evidenced in the fact that when the word was being taught, no one moved, no one talked, and if you breathed you darned well better have done it quietly. All out of respect, not fear, for the word. No coincidence, then, that his daily radio show is titled Word for Today, because Chuck Smith and the Word are irrevocably linked, a fitting epitaph for someone whose love for the Bible was evidenced in his faithful and remarkable stewardship as a teacher.

I didn’t know him. I sat under his teaching for years, teaching which directed and at some points literally saved my life, but I never had more than two casual conversations with him. He struck me as smart, humorous, no-nonsense and strong, a man humble enough to be approached but definitely not to be messed with.

And fatherly. I know I’m not alone in that assessment, as thousands of us considered him our spiritual father. In the early days of Calvary Chapel, the late 60’s and early 70’s, the generation gap was a Grand Canyon of mistrust and breakdown. Plenty of us who looked to Chuck had, rightfully or wrongly, looked away from our own fathers. As a Dad I now see how stupid and unfair that was in many cases. Everyone looks better from a distance than close up, where blemishes and flaws show themselves, and I’m sure he was no exception. But fair or not, a surrogate father can be easier to idealize and listen to than the flesh and blood Dad you’ve lived with over the years. ‘Surrogate Father’ may be a role Chuck never signed up for but he was, in fact, tailor made for it. That broad shouldered former football-player bearing, that ‘howdy neighbor’ smile, that air of self-assuredness without arrogance.

And that voice. Deep, rich, warm, reassuring. As long as I have memory I’ll hear that voice beginning each Bible study with “Shall we turn to —?”

In fact, I listen to the MP3 recordings of his studies to this day, taking them on airplanes with me to help pass the time. And without exception, when Chuck comes through the earphones, I unwind and get sleepy, hearing the guy who shepherded me so well for so long and, in response, feeling safe and drowsy, drifting off while murmuring “Goodnight, Dad.”

So the man who labored in the word and thereby equipped millions earns the double honor Paul referred to. The Body of Christ is much richer and stronger because of him, and to get just a glimpse of his legacy we need look no further than Greg Laurie, Maranatha! Music, and the worldwide influence of today’s Calvary Chapel Pastors who, like their founder, faithfully teach and live the Word.

For all of that, Sir, and for the standard you set, the consistency you modeled, the truth you made it so easy for us to grasp, the efforts you put into teaching with clarity, the fruit of the word in our own lives, and the passion for Him you poured into all of us, we honor you. Don’t hold it against us if we weep, because you’ve left a mighty and unfillable gap. You’re gone, but we’re all the better because you were here, and it goes without saying how alive you’ll always be in our hearts.

Thank you, Chuck.

And goodnight, Dad.

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