A starkly plain structure with pitched roof and a large cross on the façade. Likewise, inside is a plain room with raised platform on which are a pulpit, grand piano and electronic organ. At the base of the pulpit was a basket of flowers with the word ‘Faith’ displayed thereon. Flags of various nations line the walls – I didn’t know them all, but recognized those of Australia, Brazil, China, France, Japan, Mexico, Spain, and of course the United States.
The Fundamental Independent Baptist movement traces its origins to a group of Baptist congregations who, in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, became concerned about the encroachment of modernist and liberalist principles upon traditional beliefs. Congregations associated with the movement deny the existence of a ‘universal church’ and avoid contact with denominations other than their own. They believe that all translations of the Bible made after the King James Version are corrupt and riddled with error. Members avoid immodest dress and grooming, and frown on card playing, dancing, attending the cinema, playing video games, and other such worldly pursuits. Only music that (quoting from the Vision Baptist Church website) ‘does not cater to the world or the flesh’ is pleasing to Jesus and therefore acceptable in church. Quoting further from their website: ‘If any group of people call themselves a church, and then use rock and roll contemporary music … it is a work of the devil … There are thousands … who will attend one of these ungodly assemblies today and say they have been to church. They are wrong.’ (Miss Amanda confesses that this is what attracted her to visit this church today). Vision Baptist Church supports a number of activities for youth, women, and men, and operates a Christian day school for grades K through 8. They conduct home visits called ‘Soul Winning.’ There are morning and evening worship services each Sunday, plus Sunday school, and a Wednesday night prayer meeting.
They are located on Ocotillo Road at 135th Avenue in the southwestern-most reaches of this Phoenix suburb. The area consists of working-class single family homes. Luke Air Force Base, the largest fighter training base for the Army Air Forces during World War II and still a major training command and an important contributor to the economy of the region, is nearby.
There were three gentlemen on stage, all nattily dressed in suits. Judging from remarks they made, one of them was the pastor, and it is the pastor who preached the sermon.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
I counted about 100 chairs. There were 36 people in all – a goodly mix, quite a few children. I had chosen one of my most conservative outfits, but judging by how some people were dressed, especially the children, I needn’t have bothered.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people said ‘Hello.’ One gentleman, an usher, asked if it was my first time there and gave me a visitor’s card to fill out (I didn’t). During the meet and greet, several people shook my hand and said ‘Hello,’ ‘Good morning’ or ‘Glad you came.’
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard conference room chair – comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
General chatter. The pianist played some tinkly bits.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good morning and welcome to Vision Baptist Church.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Celebration Hymnal. No pew Bibles were available – people were expected to have brought their own.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano. The electronic organ remained silent.
Did anything distract you?
I guess the principal distraction was observing how things measured up to my expectations based on what I had learned about the denomination. I was especially surprised at what people were wearing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A hymn sandwich. The hymns were all of the camp meeting revival type, with the general theme of how wretched life was until Jesus came along. There was lots of testimony of how the church had changed people’s lives, interspersed with lots of ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise God’ from the congregation. There was only one reading from scripture, and I believe only one prayer.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
The pastor was still going strong after 30 minutes, at which point I left (see below).
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
0 – The pastor spoke conversationally but very rapidly – I had trouble hearing everything he said. I thought he rambled quite a bit, and some of the things he said really upset me (see the hellish bits below).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Matthew 11:7-19 (Jesus speaks of John the Baptist), with special emphasis on verse 19 (‘But wisdom is justified of her children’ in the King James translation). When you are wise, what you do shows that you are wise. No one can be good enough to get to heaven on one’s own – we are all sinners – but God gives us credit for something we didn’t do, just like Jesus was punished on the cross for something he hadn’t done. Horrible things have been done through the ages in the name of religion, and people who claim to be religious continue to do horrible things. There is no satisfaction in illicit sex, drunkenness, body piercing, rock music, etc. Congressman Elijah Cummings (who died earlier in the week) was thought to be a good and righteous man, although he espoused liberal beliefs that we as Fundamental Baptists know are ungodly. He, like all famous people (popes, actors, etc.), will at last know the truth when they pass into eternity. Wisdom given us from God enables us to hear the truth and to know it when we hear it – our lives will reflect it. Why did the crowds go out to see John the Baptist? Why did you come to church today? Today in this very room there is a nonbeliever who could be bound for heaven instead of hell if he would only accept God’s truth. Choose to be wise!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At one point a lady sang a solo a cappella in a rich, sweet voice, followed by ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the Lord’ from the congregation. The pastor then said, ‘Why don’t we applaud music in church? It’s because we don’t praise the musicians, but rather we praise God through their music.’ Amen and Praise the Lord, pastor – if only everyone whom Miss Amanda ever heard applaud in church could have heard the truth of those words!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Congressman Elijah Cummings was one of the most righteous people ever to have walked the face of the earth. To hear the pastor denigrate him because of his supposed ‘liberal’ beliefs was painful. Whatever happened to De mortuis nil nisi bonum (concerning the dead, nothing but good)? And then the pastor started in on the Bible: according to him, only the ‘preserved’ (meaning King James) Bible is true, and other translations will lead us straight to hell – some of them were even written by people who didn’t believe that Jesus was God! These, and remarks about the Catholic Church and other non-Fundamental Baptists, as well as certain other remarks (he told the boys in the congregation, 'You know you must marry the woman God chooses for you'), led me to conclude that I had heard quite enough!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wanted badly to leave, but I had the impression that the ushers standing in the back were watching me. (During the meet and greet, one of them had said to me, ‘I’m glad to see you singing.’) And I didn’t want to catch the pastor’s attention. So I approached the nearest usher and told him I had to use the restroom (which was true), and asked if there was one. He led me out and showed me where it was. Upon entering, I hurried into an unoccupied stall and noted that it hadn’t been flushed. After doing my business, I discovered why – it was clogged up!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn’t stay, and don’t know if there was any. After exiting the stall before the toilet overflowed onto my shoes, I literally ran out the door and to the Amandamobile as fast as my legs could carry me. I think I may have laid rubber as I peeled out of the driveway!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – No blessed way! This smug, holier-than-thou brand of Christianity is not even close to what Jesus was talking about when he said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and … love your neighbor as yourself.’
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No, I’m afraid it did not.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The condition of the restroom.