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One church, many styles
Many churches call themselves Baptist, but the service and beliefs arent all the same
The praise band and choir sing before a sermon at Riverbend Baptist Church. Riverbend Baptist lies somewhere in the middle between traditional and contemporary service styles. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
Local video: Watch a clip of the Sept. 28 service at Riverbend Baptist Church, which concluded the "Get in the Game" series.

Within each Christian denomination there are certain characteristics that differ from church to church.

And the same is true in the Baptist faith.

Locally, the spectrum of service style is wide, as some Baptist church services are traditional, involving a formally dressed choir, and some contemporary, involving a praise band.

"I don't like the traditional and contemporary label ... because both styles are stereotyped and the contemporary has gotten a bad rap from folks and the traditional," said the Rev. Matt Wethington, pastor at Riverbend Baptist Church. "If you look at John chapter 4, Jesus meeting with the woman at the well, they had a discussion over worship, and Jesus basically says the substance is far more important than the style. ... I think we need to remember that ... what are we singing about, do we know who we're singing about, do we know who we're singing to? Is our heart right, are we sincere, are we worshipping with integrity?"

Riverbend Baptist services in more recent years have become more contemporary than other Baptist churches but still rely on many Baptist traditions for worship and praise.

"It would be less traditional than some and less contemporary than others, somewhere in the middle," Wethington said. "In a more traditional environment there is a choir, a pianist and an organist. In a pure contemporary environment you would have a praise band and a praise team. In our environment we've got a choir and we have a piano and a band, so we kind of have elements of each."

Wethington adds that song selection itself varies from traditional to more modern.

"We'll sing some traditional hymns," he said. "We may not sing those hymns to the traditional music, lyrics yes, but the music may be a little different. But then we will also sing some of the contemporary praise and worship as well. So it's just kind of a mixture of whatever is appropriate and whatever fits and helps us."

Typically, more traditional Baptist churches will sing the old hymns from the hymn book, and more contemporary churches will have a praise band and modern Christian music.

At First Baptist Church of Gainesville, the church leans toward a more traditional style of worship.

"For one thing, we like a certain order and form to our worship and we like using the hymns," said the Rev. Bill Coates, pastor at First Baptist Church. "We still use the hymn book and we use quite a few good choruses, too. But we still have the organ and piano, even though we have an orchestra and all other musical instruments, too. We still use them in a more traditional form."

The differences in Baptist traditions and worship style dates back to the 1700s according to Coates.

"There are two major strains of Baptists in history, one is what we call the Baptists from the Charleston tradition," Coates said. "Which is a very high church and they wore robes every Sunday, the ministers did, highly educated clergy and pretty formal in their worship experience.

"The other is the Sandy Creek tradition that comes out of Sandy Creek, N.C., which was part of the revivalist movement in the 1700 and 1800s and out of that movement comes a lesser educated clergy, much more free style in worship and so you've always had both strains coming together in Baptist life and some churches tend more toward the one and more toward the other."

Coates added that the contemporary worship movement has more recently become prevalent.

"Many churches have dispensed with the hymn books and they go completely with more modern music and choruses and things like that," he said.

At Central Baptist Church on Main Street they too practice a very traditional style of worship and music, according to the Rev. Eddie Simmons, youth and music minister at the church.

"Our church is more traditional oriented; we use the old hymns that everybody was raised on ‘The Old Rugged Cross' and ‘Victory in Jesus,'" he said. "We still use the traditional sanctuary choir; we don't have a praise band or anything like that. Usually the elderly, the adults and senior adults, they'd rather have the traditional worship than the drums and the guitar, the electric keyboards.

"When the youth ensemble sings they sing a little more contemporary just to have a slight mix to keep everybody interested in the church in different age groups."

But these three churches do have one thing in common - they all are members of the Southern Baptist Convention. However, it is at different levels.

"We are involved with the Southern Baptist Convention. We are a strong supporter both financially and philosophically and missionally," said Wethington, who has been at the church for three years. "We are certainly proud of our association there, and certainly we believe in what the convention adopted in 2000 as our Baptist faith and message. It's not a set of beliefs you have to follow, but it's agreed upon this is what the Bible says about these issues."

Simmons said Central Baptist is closely tied to the convention, but the church doesn't always attend yearly conventions.

First Baptist and Lakewood Baptist are members of the convention but mostly to support the missions of the Baptist organization.

"We are still a member of the Southern Baptist Convention because we still believe in supporting the missionaries," Coates said. "But we are more aligned these days with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship because the way of doing theological education is more comfortable for us in the CBF approach nowadays.

We fully affirm women to serve as deacons or ministers or however they feel called of God and called of the church to serve."

Even though these Baptist churches have different practices within the church they still all believe in the same God and the basic tenants of the Baptist faith.

"I think there is a place for all of it," Coates said. "I'm glad that we have churches that do things different ways because different churches appeal to different people, so I think we have a broader appeal by having all these different styles and forms of worship."