Faith Evangelical Church, 3145 Sweetwater Drive
Service: 11 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015
Length of service: 1 hour, 5 minutes. Length of sermon: 31 minutes
There were two surprises at Faith Evangelical this morning. For one, the band was playing bluegrass instruments. Pastor Brent Nymeyer said it was a special treat.
The other surprise was that Pastor Steve Strutz, who delivered the sermon, made only a couple of references to football, even though it was Super Bowl Sunday. I had been expecting an onslaught of football metaphors and tortured analogies linking sport and religion.
I was relieved on both counts, though the music did not consist of the old-time hymns I had heard at Emmanuel Baptist. The songs appeared to be standard-issue Protestant church songs or modern praise music played on bluegrass instruments—guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass, with the addition of drums and harmonica.
The band was quite good and the sound would have been perfect if I had been able to hear the harmonica at all. There was only one blood song this week, an old hymn that began “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins.”
Interrupted only by a few announcements from Nymeyer, the mostly agreeable music went on for the first 24 minutes, after which the lights came up and the collection plates started going around. The service was as spare as the décor. The big West End church, packed with several hundred worshipers, is barren of adornment except for a simple wooden cross at stage right.
What is this series about?
To read the essay that introduced this series click here.
After the collection plates had circulated, Strutz launched right into his sermon, which was likewise unadorned. He took as his text the opening of Daniel 3, wherein Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Jews serving in positions of distinction under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, refuse to bow down before an immense golden image.
After describing the 90-foot statue, Strutz said, “it’s like a certain temple we have in our community. You could see it all the time, you know what I mean?” He said this with a dismissive laugh, obviously referring to the Mormon Temple on Rimrock Road. It almost made me feel better. All these congregations, in my experience, are quicker to condemn rival sects than to castigate mere unbelievers.
The language of the sermon was straightforward, as I said, maybe a tad lacking in passion. Strutz also found himself at a loss for words at one point, as he was describing the fit of rage Nebuchadnezzar threw after the three Judeans refused to pay homage to the giant statue. After trying to describe that fit for a few moments, Strutz, apparently not satisfied with his attempt, shrugged and said, “You’ve seen movies with that kind of thing going on.”
Nebuchadnezzar eventually orders his burliest guards to bind the three reprobates and throw them in a furnace heated up seven times hotter than usual—a detail meant to convince us that this was no mere fable, I suppose. You will be relieved to learn, if you are unfamiliar with the Book of Daniel, that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego all emerged from the fiery furnace unscathed, demonstrating the power of their God.
Strutz went on to ascribe their steadfastness in the face of what seemed like certain death to the certainty of their convictions, their belief in their God. He also enumerated what he thought were the four things that gave them such certainty—their upbringing, the traditions they followed, their grasp of God’s word and their consistent willingness to walk with God.
Along the way, Strutz quoted someone as saying that “the most portentous fact” we can know about another person is that person’s view of God, that person’s belief system.
I’m afraid I could not agree with him there. All too many times in the history of the world, people armed with unshakable certainty in their God have cheated, robbed and murdered other people. I don’t care what someone believes. I’d rather know how he or she treats other people.
At the end of his sermon, after assuring everyone that “I don’t want to put you on the spot,” Strutz asked people, as they listened to a “commitment song,” to stand up whenever they felt absolutely certain in their faith.
From what I could see, 70 to 80 percent of the congregation stood up almost immediately. Thereafter, other individuals stood as the spirit moved them. Across the aisle from me, a man whose wife (or partner anyway) had stood up quickly just sat there with his eyes squeezed shut, leaning his forehead on his clasped hands. He seemed to be struggling, and only after a few minutes did he finally, slowly, rise to a standing position.
I remained seated, not wishing to be a hypocrite, but I have to say I felt a bit awkward and uncomfortable, especially when some of those standing took little glances around them, wondering whose faith was weak, wavering or nonexistent.
I drew strength from a white-haired old gentleman off to my right, who sat contentedly throughout the song and whose calm face betrayed no inner struggle. I figured if he could do it, I could do it.
Strutz had announced earlier that there would be a tailgate “party before the party” in the parking lot after the service. When I reached the parking lot—feeling relieved, I admit, because I thought this would be my last visit to a megachurch as part of this series—Hank Williams Jr. was blaring impiously through the loudspeakers, singing his praises of what has been called America’s true religion.
Previously: Chapter 1: St. Patrick Co-Cathedral.
Chapter 2: Mount Olive Lutheran Church.
Chapter 3: Full Gospel Revival Tabernacle.
Chapter 4: First Church of Christ, Scientist.
Chapter 5; First Baptist Church.
Chapter 6: Billings Freedom Church.
Chapter 7: Faith Chapel.
Chapter 8: Eagle Ministries Inc.
Chapter 9: First United Methodist Church.
Chapter 10: Pilgrim Congregational Church.
Chapter 12: First Christian Church.
Chapter 13: Victorious Word Church.
Chapter 14: Oasis Church.
Chapter 15: Harvest Church.
Chapter 16: Billings Association of Humanists.
Chapter 17: Word of Life Fellowship.
Chapter 18: Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Chapter 19: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.
Next Week: Open Bible Christian Center.