NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Steve McNutt knew he had a decision to make this Sunday, after weeks of rejecting the altar calls at Belmont Heights Baptist Church.
As the congregation began singing the hymn of invitation, “Standing on the Promises,” McNutt knew God was asking him to surrender to Christ.
But it wasn’t that easy.
McNutt was a Mormon.
And from the Mormon perspective, leaving what they consider “the true church” meant spending his eternity in hell.
After the second verse, pastor Joe Stacker asked one more time if anyone had a decision to make.
McNutt felt as though Stacker was talking directly to him. He looked over and saw his Sunday school teacher, Pamela Poteat, praying fervently.
Almost unconsciously, McNutt’s shaking hands reached out and grabbed the pew. “Then I started to break down,” he said later. “I thought, What are people going to think about this? It was at that point where the spirit of the Lord took over. I remember that my whole body was just loosened and tears fell down my face.”
When McNutt slid out of the pew and walked to the front of the Nashville, Tenn., church, he threw his arms around Stacker. In a matter of minutes, the struggle was over. He prayed and asked Jesus to come into his life.
For McNutt, a native of Nova Scotia and a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the journey from Mormonism to a saving faith in Christ was a journey with many stops in between. It began in south Texas, where he was a Mormon missionary from 1984-86, venturing into many homes to present Mormonism. Being in south Texas, he encountered a high percentage of evangelical Christians, and on many occasions they shared their faith with him.
“At that point in my life, I was not willing to look further into what they where saying, but those things stuck into my mind,” McNutt said. “That was the beginning of my questioning. I felt something even though I didn’t really know what I felt.”
Another element that helped bring McNutt to Christ was Christian music. Although a Mormon, he was a big fan of Southern Gospel.
“It would just touch my soul,” McNutt said. “I would buy all I could because I liked it, and I knew my heart was feeling something.”
But heartbreak was the straw that broke the camel’s back. While a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, McNutt began dating a devout Mormon. But he had too many questions to be the Mormon man his girlfriend needed.
“I could not be the enthusiast, I could not say what she wanted me to say and I could not feel in my heart what she wanted me to feel about this religion,” McNutt said. “It was really a depressing thing to realize how hard I tried to integrate myself within the Mormon Church, and I failed. But I’m glad I failed. What seemed to be a tragedy really put everything together — the whole 10-year struggle.”
After that, McNutt sank into a pit of depression. His journal entries during that period speak of depression, hopelessness and despair to the point of suicide. At 31 years old, McNutt said, he finally realized the fallacy of the Mormon religion — no matter how hard he tried he would never be able to work his way to God.
Although disillusioned, McNutt continued attending Mormon services until January 1997. About that time, he noticed an ad in a Nashville newspaper and, for some reason, he couldn’t get the ad out of his mind. After a few months of internal struggle, he ended up on the doorstep of Belmont Heights Baptist Church.
“It might be different for someone else who grew up in the church, but when I walked into the church I felt the spirit of the Lord. I can’t explain the joy I felt,” McNutt said.
But no matter what he felt that first Sunday, fear kept him away from Christ. Eternal damnation and separation from friends and family haunted him for several Sundays to come.
Soon, however, the love of Christ working through the congregation made its way into McNutt’s heart as members shared “about the grace of God and the goodness and hope that comes in knowing him,” he recounted.
The staff and congregation began explaining to McNutt what it meant to be born again. In Mormonism, he often heard words such as grace and forgiveness. But for McNutt, they were just words, not something he’d experienced. Now, at Belmont Heights, he saw them enacted within real lives.
As the weeks went by, McNutt was offered countless opportunities to give his life to Christ. As Stacker preached, he felt as if he was the only person in the room. “Every week when they gave an altar call, I felt as if the Lord was speaking directly to me,” McNutt said. “He might as well have said, ‘Steven, you need to accept Christ!'”
On May 18, 1997, McNutt not only heard God’s call, but this time he responded with his life. He was baptized the following Sunday.
“I had to come to the point where I could say, ‘I can think about the things I’ve done wrong, but in the end, Lord, I have to lay them at the cross,'” McNutt said. “It’s something so simple, but so incredible.”
Almost immediately God replaced the hopelessness and disillusionment in McNutt with an unspeakable joy. “Now that I know Jesus and have accepted him as Savior, he has given me so much,” McNutt said.
“He has given me life. He has given me a newness. He has given me experiences I thought I’d never have. I thought I’d never have the peace he’s given me. He’s given me everything.”
This new Christian has begun telling his story to Mormon friends.
“They tell me they can see the joy in my life, and when they see that joy they can’t believe it,” McNutt said. “I was really a depressed person, very cynical about life. I didn’t think there was any way else to be. But when I accepted Christ, my life was changed … . When they see this transformation between a sinful, depressed person to someone who sincerely talks about the love of God, they sense something.”
Sharing the gospel, McNutt said, has become “one of the greatest blessings of my life.”
Perry is an intern with Home Life, a family magazine published by the Baptist Sunday School Board.