Chuck Smith Dies; Calvary Chapel Founder Was 86

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Chuck Smith, founder of the Jesus People and the Calvary Chapel movement and one of the most influential figures in modern U.S. Christianity, has died.

Smith passed away in his home in Newport Beach, Calif., after a two-year battle with lung cancer, church officials said, at the age of 86.

C. Smith

"He was definitely a pioneer," said Donald E. Miller, a professor of religion at USC.

"He had a transformative impact on Protestantism.

The Calvary Chapel, which includes more than 1,000 churches nationwide and hundreds more overseas, began with Smith and 25 members on a Costa Mesa lot in 1965.

A biblical literalist, he believed staunchly in hell, Armageddon and the sinfulness of homosexuality. But from the pulpit, and in person, he emanated a disarming warmth.

Chuck Smith's church became famous as a sanctuary for a generation of counterculture refugees. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and a big, benevolent smile.

Unlike many peers, he didn't care how worshipers dressed or how long they wore their facial hair. He welcomed hippies, dropouts and the drug-damaged.

He allowed guitars to accompany worship songs. He became Papa Chuck to the thousands he baptized below the ocean cliffs of Corona del Mar.

"It was really a new style of worship," Miller said. "It incorporated a generation of younger people who otherwise would not have darkened the door of a church."

"Part of his genius was he was theologically conservative but culturally avant garde."

Smith's movement is said to have contributed to the ascent of the modern mega-church, and he was a mentor to generations of younger evangelists.

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