Remembering Pastor Chuck Smith

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Music That Moved a Nation

Story by Debra Smith

Calvary Chapel Magazine continues its remembrances of CC founder Pastor Chuck Smith, with this look back at the music that energized the movement’s early days. This story first ran in Issue 58, Winter 2014.

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Pastor Chuck Smith was influential in the development of contemporary Christian music by allowing Love Song and other bands of young believers to introduce their new style of worship music at Calvary Chapel.

Pastor Chuck Smith, 42, sat on the platform steps in a mostly empty sanctuary and began weeping as he listened. “I was so touched; their music moved my heart,” remembered Chuck of the 1969 Monday afternoon at the small church he led, Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA. Mostly long-haired and tattered looking, the young men had dropped in asking to play at the church because several of them had recently come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord there. “Their brand-new love for the Lord was so inspiring,” Chuck remarked. “That ‘first love’ shone through, and I was touched by its beauty and freshness.”

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The band called themselves Love Song, and they were one of many musical groups who began leading worship and giving frequent concerts at Calvary Chapel in the late 1960s and ’70s. “Eventually, we had more than a dozen groups and individual musicians exercising their gifts and blessing the church,” Chuck stated in the summer of 2013. “Their music sounds so soft and easy now, but it was radical then. Soon we began sending them out to share in different venues along the coast. Eventually, many of them ended up developing new churches in various cities where they gave concerts. That’s how Calvary Chapel began to expand from one fellowship into an entire movement—it was as much through the music as the actual pastors going out to plant churches.” As interest in the new style of music grew, Chuck personally paid for a compilation album to be recorded. The collection was the first of what came to be a series of praise cassettes, which eventually grew into Maranatha! Music. The label influenced the development of contemporary Christian music.

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Love Song plays on a California beach in 1971.

Maranatha! Music and More: Mike MacIntosh

One after another, Chinese table servers spontaneously slowed their movements and lined the regal dining room’s walls to listen. Several government chefs in white hats soon emerged from the kitchen and joined the waiters—they too wanted to hear words from this strange book, the Bible. Though the American visitor spoke no Mandarin, the staff members’ grasp of English was strong enough to hold their attention throughout the impromptu sermon.

O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth! … I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained. Psalm 8:1b, 3

“It was an amazing moment,” Pastor Mike MacIntosh later said. “They all listened as Chuck proclaimed God the Creator to them.” Mike, Chuck, and others were in China because “Chuck had been invited by the Chinese government to the statehouse,” Mike stated. “It’s a huge, beautiful compound where they entertain foreign dignitaries. To be invited is a high honor.” Ever since the Jesus Movement, Mike explained, Chuck had been internationally renowned as an icon of ethics—and integrity was of concern to the Chinese government as the nation’s morals seemed to disintegrate.

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Mike MacIntosh distributed Maranatha! Music when the label began in the ’70s.

Desiring to get Chuck talking—“He was actually kind of shy,” Mike commented—“I said loudly to someone, ‘In our psalms, we have a Scripture that says, …’ and I purposely paraphrased Psalm 8. Chuck responded, ‘Oh, Mike, that verse is … ”, and he took it from there.”

Another day on that 1990 trip, Mike and others exited an office and discovered Chuck sitting on a curb surrounded by young children. “They were all giggling together,” Mike recollected. “Chuck had a handkerchief tied in knots so it looked like a little mouse. After asking a kid to pet it, he would pull on an attached string to make it ‘run’ up his arm. Each time, the kids roared with laughter.”

When Mike and Chuck met in 1970, Mike’s mind had been so ravaged by drugs that “I had no hope of ever being a normal person,” Mike testified. But while living in a group home for young believers, he flourished. Soon given leadership of the Maranatha! Music label, Mike scoured Southern California persuading shops to stock the new albums. He also began leading a Bible study in San Diego that grew into the church Mike led until 2015: Horizon Christian Fellowship.

Despite his fame, “Chuck knew the simplicity of being a regular person who liked to have fun,” Mike said. At the CC senior pastors’ conference in Murrieta one year, a jokester put a live chicken in Chuck’s room. “Returning from teaching the Bible that night, Chuck discovered this chicken strutting around in his room,” Mike reminisced. “He was about 75 and still allowing people to prank him—that was Chuck.”

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Love Song plays in Calvary Chapel’s tent in the early 1970s.

Finally Home: Bill Welsh

“Back in the early days, most of what we sang was directly from Scripture,” Bill Welsh said at the 2010 CC senior pastors conference. “But I’ve noticed that there are a few verses we’ve never put to music.” Bill was leading worship, and to everyone’s surprise he began singing Leviticus 13:40: “As for the man whose hair has fallen from his head, he is bald, but he is clean.”  The pastors roared with laughter. When Chuck got onstage, he joined in the humor: “Thank you for dedicating that one to me, Bill.”

Like many of his contemporaries, Bill grew up distanced from his father. In 1963, his parents divorced; soon, his brother died. Wondering why, Bill sought answers—and a religious leader said his brother’s death was due to his parents’ divorce. Troubled and alone, Bill dove into the counterculture scene. But two years later, he walked into Calvary Chapel and heard the Gospel of grace.

“I knew I was finally home,” Bill reflected. A few years later, as a youth leader, Bill was driving a Volkswagen bus of students to a retreat center. As they departed, a car pulled ahead of Bill, and Chuck jumped out. Opening the bus door, Chuck looked at the driver with scraggly hair and hippie garb. “Young man, I trust you to drive very carefully,” Chuck said. The vehicle contained precious cargo, the pastor continued—including Chuck’s daughter. Bill recently stated, “I can still see the intensity in Chuck’s eyes as he reminded me to drive carefully. I’m forever grateful for his touch on my life.”

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Pastor Chuck and Love Song reunited in 2010 for a “Feel The Love” tour of eight states. Chuck, who shared Christ at each concert, said, “We are seeing many come forward to renew their commitment to Jesus Christ, and many are receiving Christ.”

Bill and his wife Joy later started CC Melbourne, Australia. Bill recently reflected: “I’ll never forget how excited Chuck was when he looked at the photo of our small congregation in Australia, gathered behind the Calvary Chapel Melbourne banner.” Bill now pastors Refuge CC in Huntington Beach, CA, which is named after the spiritual refuge Bill said he has always found Calvary Chapel to be.



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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.