After a three-year battle with lung cancer, Chuck Smith, well-known evangelical leader and senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in California, died early Thursday morning, October 3. He was 86.
Though he struggled to breath and underwent a rigorous schedule of cancer treatments, Smith still hosted his worldwide radio program and continued preaching at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. Smith announced his diagnosis to his congregation on New Year’s Eve 2012.
The church’s Facebook page has the following message:
“Our beloved Pastor Chuck went home to be with the Lord around 3:00 o’clock this morning. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. We rejoice that he has moved out of his worn out tent and into his heavenly body. On behalf of the family, his children, and Kay, they are so appreciative of all your love and prayers. We praise the Lord that we will all be together again some day! Our coming Sunday morning service on October 6th will center on his homecoming. Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa will be open for those who want to come by for prayer and encouragement. A private memorial service will be held, along with a larger public service to be announced in the days ahead.”
Founder of the non-denominational Calvary Chapel association of evangelical churches, Smith played a major role in the “Jesus People Revival” of the late 1960s and early 1970s that began on the West Coast of the United States.
“Hippies” looking for alternatives to free love, drugs and rock n roll associated with the 1969 Woodstock music festival ideology, turned to a new life in Christ that Smith presented.
As recent as last Sunday, “Papa Chuck,” as he was fondly called, preached three services with the aid of an oxygen tank.
A member of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa since 1973, Orange County resident Bryan Seltzer, says Smith had a significant impact, not only on his life, but the lives of so many others.
“There is no telling where I would have ended up without Papa Chuck. About anything and everything was okay,” Selzer said. “He became my spiritual father. There was always a joy, excitement and getting into the Word of God. He was a great teacher.”
While only twenty-five people attended his first service, under Smith’s leadership, the movement has grown into a fellowship of over 1300 churches, making it one of the ten largest Protestant denominations/associations in the United States. Once known to be a collection of “Jesus Freaks” existing on the fringe of Christianity, Calvary Chapel is now one of the pillars of the evangelical movement.
Over the years his casual approach to ministry radically influenced worship styles in American Christianity. Somewhat of an enigma, Smith embraced a conservative theology, while also appreciating various elements of charismatic teaching.
Selzer says he valued Smith’s in-depth and word-for-word Bible preaching.
“He gave you a real grasp of biblical history that were brought to life, Selzer said. “His skills in communication were tremendous. The Holy Spirit truly used him in a mighty way.”
Seltzer, who is director of the International Press Association and a commercial insurance specialist, recalls the first time he met Smith.
“I was wearing flip flops and I believe my shirt hung longer than my shorts,” Selzer said with a laugh. “But what I was wearing didn’t matter. He welcomed me. Pastor Smith was grounded firmly in the Word. He lived what he believed and led by example.”
Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, with campuses in Riverside and Irvine, California and Harvest Crusades, was one such member of Smith’s core group in the 1960s, posted on his blog about the impact Smith had on his life.
“As most of you know, Chuck has been battling cancer for a couple of years now.
As Pastor Chuck fought this dreaded disease, he still maintained a very full schedule of preaching and serving the Lord to the very end.
I can’t help but think of the apostle Paul’s words to Timothy:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7-8)
Rarely does a man come along that impacts a generation, but Chuck Smith was that man.
He certainly impacted my life.
Chuck is now in heaven and he will certainly hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . Now enter the joy of the Lord!” (Matthew 25:23).
There is much more I will say in the days ahead, but for now let’s remember to pray for Chuck’s family and his congregation, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa.”
Over several decades Smith authored or co-authored dozens of books including Answers for Today, Calvary Chapel Distinctives, Calvinism, Arminianism & The Word of God, Charisma vs. Charismania, Comfort for Those Who Mourn, Effective Prayer Life, Why Grace Changes Everything and Love: The More Excellent Way.
Smith’s radio and TV program, Word for Today, was heard on stations nation-wide in over 300 cities and aired more than 300 times daily.
Russ Jones is a 25-year award-winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com and OxfordFamily.com. He is also founder Christian News Service, LLC. He has served as media consultant to a number of political and cause-oriented campaigns. He is a regular freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network and various Christian TV networks. He has been a guest on such programs as the Mike Gallagher Show, the Dennis Prager Show and Sandy Rios in the Morning. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. To learn more visit ChristianNewsService.