The Doctrine of Community Chapel - Where Did it Err?

It is my firm conviction after many years of thought, study, and prayer that the Chapel erred in the two major areas listed below (and that these led to many others that are not listed). These two errors are both severe, but I believe that one is worse than the other.

In the first teaching, I think the Chapel revealed itself to be outside of the Christian faith and that it therefore jeopardized the salvation of all who accepted the beliefs taught to us there. I believe that this is confirmed by the disintegration of the Chapel in its final three years - that is, we did in fact see many lose their faith during that period because of Chapel teaching, and we still see many others who remain isolated from membership in any other church to one degree or another (either by not belonging to any at all or by privately opposing the doctrine taught by the pastors and teachers of any that they do attend) because of this distinctive Chapel belief that they still hold on to.

In the second teaching, the Chapel shared the theology of modern Pentecostalism; it shared its emphasis on personal experience and subjective interpretation of the Bible, and its corresponding deemphasis of historical Biblical doctrine and objective norms. The Chapel therefore shared the spiritual, doctrinal, and emotional instability of Pentecostalism, contributing to its susceptibility to many further errors.

These are the two major teachings of the Chapel that I now believe to be false:

  1. "The Trinity is untrue and unBiblical. It was introduced through the infuence of Greek philosophy or pagan religion, or both, upon the church."
  2. Related Errors:

    1. "Historic Christian theology, taken as a whole, is a system of human tradition rather than a valid teaching tradition based on scripture and exercised by true men of God."
    2. Comment: By classifying this teaching of the Chapel as an error, I do not mean to say that everything in the history of church theology is true, good, or scriptural. There are many things in historic Christian theology that are not reliable. There is a strong trend in it toward works righteousness, since people by nature always tend in that direction anyway. Also, there is no doubt that some church teachers were too much influenced by the secular philosophy of their day (but then that is true in any age - even of course in our day in which many teachers have been influenced by the individualistic, subjectivistic, and democratic philosophies of the modern world). Many ancients had an excessive admiration for outward discipline, as well as for celibacy. A false teaching about the primacy of the Roman bishop was introduced.

      As time went on, these and other errors dominated, church tradition therefore picked up elements for which the Bible did not provide explicit authority, and the Roman system resulted. But that does not mean that there is no valid scriptural teaching tradition at all in the church - a tradition of always defining doctrine from scripture - that stretches back to New Testament times, from which Rome departed in many important things, and to which the Protestant Reformation correctly returned.

    3. "The Trinity is a product of Roman Catholicism."
    4. Comment: Upon investigation, one finds that the Chapel's account of the development of Trinitarian theology is shot through with blatant historical errors. It is difficult to narrow down its error in this regard to one general statement, but if there is one it would probably be this one above. Its case against the Trinity relies heavily upon historically and doctrinally ignorant believers having a bias against Roman Catholicism, and then upon getting them to see the Trinity as a quintessentially Roman product. One does not need to be a defender of the Roman church (and indeed I am not) to see one of the errors into which the Chapel has fallen here: simple unthinking bigotry.

  3. "The indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not occur at conversion or baptism but is a separate experience that is distinct from both (even if it is simulataneous, or separated by a very small amount of time)."
  4. Related Errors:

    1. "In the scriptures, 'receiving the Spirit' is synonymous with being 'filled with the Spirit' and being 'baptized in the Spirit' as those terms are used in Acts 2. Though you are a baptized believer in Christ it is still possible to have not 'received' the Spirit and therefore to be without the infilling or indwelling of the Spirit which is described in Acts 2."
    2. Comment: Though the scriptures do in a few instances in the book of Acts show baptized believers that have not yet been "filled with the Spirit" these are exceptional cases due to the unique circumstances in the early years of the church's founding, and they are not even consistent with other instances of the Spirit's reception as shown in Acts. The clear teaching laid down elsewhere in the scriptures about the Holy Spirit's work shows what the apostles intended the church to understand about receiving the Spirit. All Christians can be assured on the basis of clear scriptural teaching that they have everything of the Holy Spirit that God intends for them if they believe in the promises of God for the forgiveness of sins that he grants in Christ and have been baptized into his body, the church, by a minister of that gospel. The Holy Spirit's work is to create and maintain faith through the Word of God. The Scriptures state unequivocally that those who believe in the promises of the gospel of Christ have new life and sonship in Christ; that means they have the Spirit dwelling in them, because it is only through the Holy Spirit's indwelling that anybody can approach God as being truly one's Father.

      For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.
      (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

      Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
      (1 John 4:15-16)

      But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
      (Gal 4:4-6)

      For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God...
      (Rom 8:15-16)

      These scriptures are clear and are consistent with one another. No baptized believer in Christ should let teaching that is based on an inconsistent or unclear application of scripture convince him or her that he or she has not received the Holy Spirit or is lacking a "baptism" in the Holy Spirit that God wants all believers to experience.

    3. "The reception of the Holy Spirit must be accompanied by the 'sign' of speaking in new tongues."
    4. Comment: By identifying this as an error I do not mean to say that speaking in tongues didn't function as a sign of the reception of the Spirit in some of the early instances, but rather to note that there is no teaching of scripture that says tongues are the permanent, necessary sign of receiving the Spirit. Clearly, there is not only no explicit statement of scripture saying so, but there is also no consistency to the accounts of receiving the Spirit in Acts that could be used to establish a necessary pattern that is to be looked for today. Looking at scripture as a whole, there is no clear intent seen to teach that the reception of the Spirit is something different from conversion and bapstism that must necessarily be accompanied by a special sign, least of all by tongues. To make it teach such, one must make assumptions, misrepresent many scriptures based on those assumptions, and ignore many other scriptures.

    5. "Those who have been 'baptized in the Holy Spirit with the sign of speaking in tongues' have access to spiritual things, or to a spiritual realm, that is inaccessible to believers who haven't had that experience."
    6. Comment: This is the most blatantly unscriptural teaching of all the errors under this heading. It sets up a spiritual division in the church based on alleged spiritual experiences and is right on the boundaries of gnosticism as a result. This expectation of special spiritual experiences often leads Pentecostal churches (as, again, we did see happen at the Chapel) into the construction of a spiritual fantasy world that has no relation to actual New Testament doctrine and practice and that, as a result, members of other churches find bizarre and cannot relate to.

The reasons I have written this are: 1) to help myself understand the reasons why I personally fell into error, resulting in several years of spiritual isolation and confusion; and 2) to clearly explain to others why I have rejected the Chapel's teaching - teaching that I myself believed and promoted for nearly twenty years. As I've said before, I think the Chapel's rise and fall illustrate the weaknesses of some misunderstandings of Christian faith and the history of the Christian church very commonly encountered in the world today, and that a study of that rise and fall pays off well with a greater understanding of the nature of both faith and church.