Pastor Chuck Smith is being remembered as a man who impacted an entire generation, including many prominent Christian leaders, with his straightforward preaching and a life that reflected the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Smith died early Thursday morning at his home in Newport Beach, Calif., after nearly a two-year battle with lung cancer at 86.
For most of Thursday, on the Internet, on radio, and through social media – countless Christians, both in leadership and as simply followers of Jesus, shared their memories of "Papa Chuck" and his personal and global impact.
"Physical death ushered him into God's presence for eternity on October 3, but his earthly ministry will be remembered as impacting generations since the 1960s," Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, shared in a statement released later in the day.
"He taught the Bible from cover to cover — Genesis to Revelation — and verse by verse multiple times. He believed the Word of God and lived by it," Graham stated.
The son of Billy Graham said that he considered Smith his good friend. Graham reported that Smith gave his last sermon from a wheelchair this past Sunday at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, the mother church that helped birth an association of more than 1,600 congregations worldwide.
He also shared that for the last several decades, when he traveled to southern California, "Pastor Chuck always took time to share a meal with me and fellowship over what the Lord was doing. I was with him this summer and had the privilege of preaching for him at his pastors conference and in a special crusade sponsored by Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa.
Graham added, "He will be missed, but for those who know Christ as Savior, we have the same hope Chuck wrote about in his book, Comfort for Those Who Mourn, when he stated, 'One day I will move out of my body and into God's dwelling that Jesus has prepared for me — this is Living Hope.' There is no greater comfort than to know that my friend's incredible journey through life led him to Heaven."
On Thursday, a posting on the Calvary Chapel website reads, "Our beloved Pastor Chuck went home to be with the Lord around 3:00 o'clock this morning. He passed into eternity peacefully in his sleep. We rejoice that he has moved out of his worn out tent and into his heavenly body. On behalf of the family, his children, and Kay, they are so appreciative of all your love, prayers and support."
The church stated that its services this Sunday morning "will center on his homecoming." The family is planning a private memorial service, along with a larger public service to be announced in the days ahead.
"He was an American hero who loved the Boomers when the Generation Gap was at its height. He was the first to be 'seeker friendly,'" Dave Holden, International Purpose Driven Training Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, told The Christian Post Thursday.
Holden shared that Smith was a source of inspiration throughout his seminary days, and after meeting him, went to him in person for prayer.
"When we were having our children, we would make sure that Pastor Chuck prayed for each of our kids while they were still in the womb," Holden said. "He would lovingly and particularly pray a very intimate and personal prayer, speaking a word of prophecy over each, and indeed those prophecies have been fulfilled.
"My children have all continued to pursue their relationship with God and are close to the church of Jesus Christ. I believe that in no small measure I owe all of that to Pastor Chuck Smith.
"He was a model to many of us in ministry. He was the first to accept all of the 'outsiders' who were non-traditional Christians," Holden explained. "That model has proven to be a foundation for all of the ongoing evangelistic churches in the world today."
He added, "That man really knew how to love."
Even a younger generation of pastors expressed their appreciation for Smith's legacy.
Levi Lusko, 31, pastor of Fresh Life Church, a multi-site church in Kalispell, Mont., blogged about his reaction to "the prolific life and recent departure" of Smith, whose leadership and church led to "an entire tribe of Calvary Chapel churches that would spring up the world over," and who "was intrinsically connected to the storied 'Jesus-movement.'"
"He who faithfully and relentlessly exposited scriptures, pointed people to grace and trusted in the Holy Spirit has left the tent and gone Home," Lusko writes.
"Pastor Chuck is a hero of mine," he continued. "There is no doubt that there would be no Fresh Life Church if it weren't for him. He directly impacted those who impacted me, and through attending the Bible College he started, I learned so much."
Lusko said that as part of the Bible college curriculum, they would listen to hundreds and hundreds of Smith's messages through the Bible. "I thoroughly enjoyed it," he wrote.
"His distinct, rich, warm voice and loving tone as he methodically worked his way from Genesis to Revelation, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse is permanently engrained in my heart. I still regularly listen to him teach, both on Fresh Life Radio and as I teach through books of the Bible myself.
"Just a couple months ago I spent several hours listening to him teach the entire book of Philippians in two monster-sermons in prep for the Rampart Series. Speaking of Fresh Life Radio, it was Pastor Chuck who gave us the radio station we operate in Billings, Montana. Which is a perfect snapshot of his generous heart," Lusko explained.
"Millions and millions of people experienced God's love because of him," he continued. "Much like the late Steve Jobs, who innovated in not just one but in multiple areas, God used Pastor Chuck to change the game on many different levels. He altered the landscape when it comes to Christian music by embracing modern worship and giving birth to Maranatha music, pioneered in church-planting, and disrupted ministry in general through his evangelistic approach that reached out to a counterculture while maintaining both doctrinal orthodoxy and an openness to the Holy Spirit.
Author and apologetics professor Lee Strobel, tweeted on Thursday, "Chuck Smith lit Gospel fires all over the world. Countless people were inspired into action by his passion for evangelism."