In reading the current theological views of ex-Chapelites on the CCG board, something that one begins to notice after awhile about their Chapel-derived theology is that it does not have a very coherent view of the church, Community Chapel itself having collapsed long ago and leaving its members bereft of a living structure for their faith. It becomes obvious in reading their postings that Chapelites no longer know the place of the visible church, or their own place in the visible church. It turns out in fact that many ex-Chapelites are in churches with whose statement of faith they have significant doctrinal differences.|
Outside of pointing to the now non-existent Chapel, Chapelites don't even have a very clear definition of what the visible church should be, nor are there any existing assemblies they can point to as embodying, or even teaching, what they themselves believe. They in fact assign very little importance to the visible church and its doctrine, believing strongly only in the invisible church of all who accept a general and vague doctrine of salvation by faith in Jesus.
This is not, of course, the scriptural way of viewing the church.
In the scriptural view, the visible church and its doctrine is in the foreground. A believer learned doctrine (the meaning of the Bible) from the teachers of the visible church of which he or she was a member, not from private reading and interpretation of the Scriptures. One did not read the Bible by oneself, decide what it meant, and only then look around for a visible church, if any, that matched that interpretation, silently holding a dissenting membership in some other church if one couldn't find such a church. Instead, the scriptural picture is of a person hearing the gospel from a minister of a particular visible church, being baptized by that minister, becoming a part of that same visible church, and then continuing to learn the doctrine taught by the pastors and teachers of that particular visible church.
If we want to stick to the Biblical picture, we cannot say the individual believer's interpretation of Scripture is a legitimate source of doctrine. The church is not a source of doctrine either, but it is the conduit used by the Holy Spirit. The sole source of doctrine remains the scriptures - the written representation of the Word of God given by the Holy Spirit to the prophets and apostles. We as individual believers are not responsible for coming up with Christian doctrine on our own out of those scriptures; it is the job of the church - a particular, visible church - to teach it to us from there. To deny this is to fall into the error of private interpretation.
This unbiblical view propagated by those under the influence of Chapel theology is well illustrated in the following two quotations from a recent (as of July 2006) debate over private interpretation on the CCG board:
"New converts absolutely need to ask God to guide them—and get started immediately reading and interpreting (and old converts, just as much, need to keep asking God to guide them in correctly interpreting and in receiving revelations from it)."
Notice (in the first case) the complete absence of any role for the church or (in the second case) its place as merely aligning with the one's interpretation of scripture after one has decided what that is.
"We have a great multitude of churches, all of which claim that their doctrine is faithful to the doctrine of the apostles. If the average Joe Christian is not capable of interpreting scripture, how should we expect that this same Joe is capable of selecting which church, among the thousands, will interpret scripture most accurately?
"The answer must be that Joe should examine the scripture for himself to determine which church is more true to the apostolic doctrine. In other words Joe must, upon careful reflection and study, decide for himself which church is more true to the Bible."
This is the situation that is assumed to be normal: a "new convert" or average "Joe Christian" is outside the influence of any church, apparently in a kind of vacuum of clean doctrinal purity (i.e., having no preconceptions at all from his culture or upbringing that might make "his" interpretation veer from that intended by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through first-century Palestinian Jews), studying the Bible on his own and guided by God to a correct interpretation of the Bible for himself that will soundly guide his subsequent choice of a church, the purpose of which is vague but which is certainly not for learning Christian doctrine. Church teaching is not seen to be important or even valid if it doesn't line up with prior private interpretation of the scriptures.
This is of course diametrically opposed to the scriptural picture.
The scriptural picture, and also the typical case in reality, is that one must learn doctrine through the teaching of a particular visible church, the one through which one heard the gospel and by whose ministers one was baptized. To instead view the doctrine of all existing churches as suspect, and to teach that the intended instrument of the Holy Spirit's revelation is individual interpretation of the scriptures, is not only backwards but also divisive and heretical; but it is precisely this view that the Chapel has propagated.
The irony of all this is that most teachings that come from "their own interpretation of scripture" can be easily shown to be the product of a specific, external religious system of thought. It is a identifiable philosophy of subjectivism and personal autonomy that predates the American nation but which found its characteristic expression in this country and has produced most of its religion and much of its culture. This individualistic, self-centered, and anti-clerical view of one's relationship to God has been growing in a straight line of development from the Pietists of the seventeenth century through the Methodists of the eighteenth century through the holiness movement of the nineteenth century through the Pentecostalism of the early twentieth century right up to the Latter Rain "come outer" movement of the middle twentieth century in which the pastor and founder of the Chapel was educated.
When I first encountered the Chapel, I was vaguely dissatisfied with the church in which I had been brought up and was looking around for something different. I had no specific gripes about my church, certainly none that came from studying its doctrine and coming to different conclusions for myself from the Scriptures. In fact, I had never bothered to study the doctrines of my church to see why they were taught and how they addressed life and faith. Without actually thinking about it, I just felt my church was boring and out of touch. I was not an unbeliever but I was not really committed to the church whose ministers had baptized me and taught me the faith. Also, I was, without recognizing it, heavily influenced by the subjective, individualistic, and self-centered tone of modern culture; I really didn't know there was any other way of looking at life - God help me. I was ripe for the picking by revivalistic religion. I think I was pretty typical of many of those who were attracted to the Chapel from the late 60's to the mid-80's.
The other kind of typical Chapelite was one who had been unbelieving and unchurched before encountering Community Chapel, and most probably to that point had a negative view of all organized religion. They "got saved" at a Community Chapel service and from then on never knew any other kind of faith than that subsequently taught to them by the Chapel.
Perhaps a third kind of Chapelite was the old-school "Latter Rain" Pentecostal believer who saw in the Chapel a welcome new "move of God" they had long sought and expected. This was because "Latter Rain" Pentecostalism was acutally where the Chapel's teaching itself originated, due to Don and Barbara's upbringing in that world and in spite of some modifications they later made in Latter Rain doctrine, but this kind of Chapelite was a distinct minority (that is, as to their origin within Latter Rain Pentecostalism - we all of course came to believe the Chapel's teaching that it was part of the prophesied "end-time move of God" that would revive, restore, and unite the church). In other words, the Chapel was primarily a Latter Rain Pentecostal church that converted both the churched and the unchurched to its own beliefs and practices.
Now I come to the point of all this: the reason Greg Still and Keith Hardy (quoted above) believe that the typical person must interpret Scripture for himself or herself in opposition to what nearly all existing churches, due to their corruption by the "traditions of men," actually teach about the faith is because that view is what they learned at the Chapel. It is the view of the world one must have in order to believe the Chapel's teaching - for it to "work" - especially now that the Chapel itself has collapsed and there really aren't any other churches that teach all the same things it taught. They believe that the Holy Spirit works primarily through the individual directly reading the scriptures by himself, not primarily through those scriptures being taught by ministers of the church (unless of course that church is Community Chapel!).
However, this view is not only unscriptural but it leads to the kind of chaos and confusion that plagues the Pentecostal world. It plays a huge role in its susceptibility to all kinds of strange revelations and teachings like the one that brought down the Chapel.