28 September 2019

What Kind Of Church Is "The Pearl Church" in Denver?

In my neighborhood in Denver there is a church currently known as "The Pearl Church" at 200 South University. When I first moved to the neighborhood in the year 2000, and for many years thereafter, it was "Calvary Temple". 

Over the last several years, however, at least the name of the church, and presumably, its larger brand and identity, has turned over two or three times. For a while it was the "Citypoint" and fairly recently, probably within the last year, it has become "The Pearl Church". It isn't clear to me as an outsider how much of the Calvary Temple or Citypoint congregations carried over to the Pearl Church. The old Citypoint website (and also this directory listing) suggests that Citypoint was basically just a rebranding of Calvary Temple that retained much of the same leadership and just shed an outdated name, while the switch to the Pearl Church brand involved a major change in top leadership and some more subtle doctrinal and day to day practice changes, which may or may not have involved a significant change in the congregation's membership or secondary leaders. During its brief existence a yelp review of Citypoint church stated that "the worship is contemporary . . . .This is a charismatic and polished that preached the healing and the prosperity gospel." Calvary Temple may have been affiliated with the Four Square Baptist Church denomination. There was also a religious group known as "Upper Room Denver" that described their meeting place as "The Pearl at Citypoint Church" presumably in a transitional period, it isn't clear if they were (or still are) co-occupants for that congregation of the same building, if they are a subdivision of "The Pearl" or if that is no longer the case.

If I were forced to, I would guess that the effort to rebrand Calvary Temple to Citypoint was not sufficiently transformative to meet the objectives of the people in the congregation who had pushed for it. So, they invited in the Pearl Church ministers who came from a setting more in line with their vision to implement a more complete overhaul of the church in a transformation that probably jettisoned some of the old guard from Calvary Temple who didn't share the reformer's vision. In that process they probably welcomed this particular couple in part because this couple's vision was a bit more contemporary and culturally in tune than the Mannahouse church organization in which they had spent their prior careers as pastors but wanted to shift subtly away from themselves, informed by their own experiences leading younger members of that group of megachurches. But, the Pearl Church probably retained much of the pre-existing congregation of Citypoint. Of course, this is purely speculation based upon circumstantial evidence.

It is a non-denominational Christian church on the "megachurch" model currently led by a husband and wife team, Doug and Donna, who were junior ministers in a Portland, Oregon megachurch for seventeen years with a focus on the youth ministry, who are recreating that model with their own tweaks here in Denver.

But, non-denominational Christian can obscure the substance of what a church is about which would otherwise have been conveyed in detail in a word or two with a denominational label. It does not acknowledge any religious authority above the Congregational level, or identify any membership in any larger organization of affiliated churches, even though it acknowledges inspiration from City Bible Church (a.k.a. Mannahouse) in Portland, Oregon under the leadership of Pastor Frank Damazio, which is also associated with Portland Bible College (which has a statement of faith that openly opposes gay marriage and embraces Biblical literalism shared by its sponsoring church, unlike the Pearl Church).

Probably the biggest litmus tests to help understand the substance of it are that it is an adult baptism by immersion church as opposed to an infant baptism church, and that it does not follow the traditional liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, or a liturgy derived from although sometimes subtly different from the Roman Catholic liturgy, unlike Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, the Congregationalist Churches, and the Reformed Churches, for example.  For example, it does not recite any variation of the Nicene or Apostolic creeds, even though its doctrinal statements, based upon citations to the Bible rather than Roman era conferences, are basically consistent with those creeds. 

None of its statements of doctrine would be considered particularly heretical among any of the leading non-liturgical Protestant denominations in the Western European Christian tradition in the United States, unlike, for example, Unitarian Christians, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Mormons, the Community of Christ, or the Unification Church (i.e. the Moonies). Likewise, it does not draw from the Pacifist religion traditions of the Quakers, the Mennonites and the Amish, and it does not have a strong immigrant identity or focus on ministering to LGBT individuals like the Metropolitan Church.

Sexual orientation is a subject upon which is public materials are silent, neither prominently welcoming nor openly rejecting. And, for the most part, the public materials make only the most hesitant political statements and are silent on strongly political issues. There is also no mention of abortion or immigration in its public materials, for example.

It also does not in any way visible on its website adhere to any of the particular practices associated with historically black Christian denominations in the United States. It's website openly proclaims its welcoming of all races, there is no express or implied hint of overt racism, and it may have a more ethnically diverse makeup than most Protestant denominations that are not historically black, but it is still clearly, as the photos on the website illustrate, a predominantly white church in a predominantly white neighborhood.

From a Christian doctrine and practices perspective, it might best be described as a rebranded Baptist church that is pulling towards the moderate direction that the Christian Church (Disciples) has tried to stake out for itself. It appears to mainly draw upon the views of Christianity shared by most Baptist churches that are predominantly white in the United States, but without the heavy Southern white and rural cultural and historical baggage that those denominations carry (and that the Calvary Temple name implied). It may also borrow somewhat, although less obviously, from the Christian Church (Disciples) and the predominantly white Pentecostal Assembly of God denomination, and from the less firmly denominational Christian revivalist and missionary tradition. 

Notably, the church does not expressly identify itself as "Evangelical" even though Evangelism is one of its core values, and does not use the words "Born Again" or insist on "Biblical literalism" in its public materials, while these are catch words in most predominantly white Southern churches outside the liturgical church tradition and in "fundamentalist" churches. On the other hand, it does talk about the active role that Satan and angels plays in the world, embraces faith healing as something that really happens, and expressly encourages its members to believe in the supernatural and to look for miracles in daily life. It also has subtle seeds of the prosperity gospel.

Instead, the Pearl Church brands itself visually and with what it chooses to say and to not say, as an urban, modern, innovative, culturally in touch while distinctively Christian, and not overtly hateful church that is focused on personal development more than the culture wars. 

For example, the website prominently features of family portrait of the husband and wife team that leads the church (identified predominantly by their first names only) and their children. No one is wearing "church formal" clothes. The husband  and one daughter has a leather jacket on. The oldest son has a haircut that is basically clean cut punk. Everyone but the wife is in jeans. The background of many of their pages is the downtown Denver skyline.

Organizationally, it bears great similarity with most other megachurches, in that it has a lot of activities and subgroups targeted at particular subgroups of members of the congregation: children, adolescents and young adults, professionals, men, women, etc. Much of the emphasis on the church's activities are on these smaller group activities. And, while it has, like most churches of almost all denominations, a more traditional service and a more contemporary service each Sunday (with the contemporary service being the dominant one),  it doesn't unduly focus its description of itself on the nature of the music and experience at the main contemporary service.


neo said...

ever heard of the swedenborg new church?

the one i saw is semi-conservative plus writings of emmanuel swedenborg which they regard to be on par with bible

andrew said...

Pretty much a historical footnote. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Church_(Swedenborgian)

neo said...

there's one active church in glenview il