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What does it mean to be a Christian?
Answers likely vary, but denominational affiliation is one key to understanding Christianity
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The Rev. Dr. Michael H. Reynolds, Air Line Baptist Church senior pastor, has been with the church for one year. Air Line has more traditional services than some other are Baptist churches. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Listen as the Rev. Jeff Gailey talks about baptism in the Pentecostal church.

Millions of people in the United States consider themselves Christian, but that doesn't mean they all believe in exactly the same thing.

There are many Christian denominations throughout the country and even more variety within the denominations.

So, what exactly are the differences among these Christians who believe in the same God?

BAPTIST

Basic beliefs

The belief that really sets the Baptists apart from other Christian denominations is believers' baptism.

According to the Rev. Dr. Mike Reynolds at Airline Baptist Church, the movement for believers' baptism started in the 16th century.

"Most true historians will tell you that Baptists began around the 1500s in what we call today the Swiss Brethren movement," he said. "They were called anabaptists because they were opposed to their Catholic baptism ... they could not find any place in the Bible that said someone was baptized prior to becoming a believer. The New Testament form was always someone becoming a believer in Christ and then being baptized."

Service structure

For Baptists each service is different, but the basic order of worship events stays about the same.

At Lakewood Baptist, the worship service is contemporary with praise and worship music; at Airline Baptist the congregation is used to a more traditional service with hymns.

"We begin with music," Reynolds said. "We have a more traditional service but it does have some modern songs."

He added that most Baptist churches have the offering in the middle of the service.

"Because of the fact that giving was also considered by God as a form of worship," he said. "It's not just laying down your money to pay the light bill, it's giving to support the work of the kingdom."

The sermon at Airline lasts about 30 minutes.

"In Baptist life, the reason why the message is roughly one half of the service is because the proclaimed word is seen as essential," Reynolds said. "It is a focal point and proclaiming what it means.

The invitation for new believers at the end of the service is a trend that came from evangelist Billy Sunday.

"In the mid-20th century Billy Sunday, who was a former major league baseball player, began sweeping the country and invitations became an important part of Baptist churches," he said.

History

The Rev. Dr. Tom Smiley from Lakewood Baptist added that for Baptists, the Scripture is the sole authority for the church.

"So basically the history of the Baptist church is from people who broke away from other structures to form that type of body," he said. "I do believe that the New Testament church that we read about in the Bible, the structure of the New Testament church is closely aligned to the autonomous, democratic body that we (Baptists) are aligned with today."

According to the Baptist History and Heritage Society, Baptists came into existence in England in the early 17th century, emerging from the Puritan-Separatist movement in the Church of England. They formed separate congregations that accepted only believers into their membership and they baptized converts upon a profession of faith.

PENTECOSTAL

Basic beliefs

Many Pentecostal churches are part of the Congregational Holiness Church, like Clermont Pentecostal Lighthouse Church.

And the foundation of their faith is accepting everyone into the church.

"This church is a free church, I'm sure some people would consider us to be different than other denominations," said the Rev. Jeff Gailey, a native of Clermont. "We believe in anointing and praying for the sick; we believe in praying for the lost and family problems. We've prayed people out of jail and some that need to go to jail.

"There's a form, a religion, and the Bible says that there's the power and presence of the Lord."

The Pentecostal church also believes in letting the Holy Spirit have a strong presence in worship.

"We believe in letting the spirit take over, but we need a form to go by," Gailey said. "We believe that people can rejoice in the Lord by getting up and shout or do what they want to do."

Service structure

Services begin at 10:45 a.m. at Clermont Pentecostal Lighthouse and the worship begins with the choir.

"We start off with choir and we have songs and we have special prayer requests," Gailey said. "We gather with the people and pray with them."

History

The Congregational Holiness Church was organized as a denomination in 1921 in High Shoals.

It has grown from 12 churches in 1921 to more than 5,200 churches worldwide in 12 states and 19 countries, according to the Congregational Holiness Web site.

"We don't actually speak of any denomination," Gailey said. "We believe that Jesus is the head of the church and believe we are a part by being converted to Christianity; we become disciples, ministers, teachers and stewards.

The Congregational Holiness Church traces its doctrinal and historical roots to the Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan Holiness Revival and the Pentecostal movement of the early 20th century, according to the Congregational Holiness Church Web site.

METHODIST

Basic beliefs

Grace is a pillar of the Methodist Church, according to Wendy Cordova, pastor of evangelism and lay ministry at Gainesville First United Methodist Church.

"I would say one of the things that is distinct is our emphasis on grace, which I would describe as the unmerited favor of God," Cordova said. "We believe God is creator and still is creating; we believe Jesus if the son of God and died for all humanity and the forgiveness of sin and for eternal life.

"We believe in the Holy Spirt, that is the presence of God living in the hearts of people."

The church also focuses on putting this faith into action, according to the United Methodist Church Web site, in what founder John Wesley referred to as "practical divinity." And salvation may be a dramatic and sudden event or a more gradual process.

Service structure

Services at Gainesville First United Methodist offer variety for all ages.

"We actually offer a variety of worship opportunities in our church," Cordova said. "Methodists across the nation will look different. We have traditional worship and we offer (a) praise and worship style here at Gainesville First."

And the church has developed over the years into an informal congregation.

"What's important to us is the message," she said. "Not so much in the way it is communicated ... Our whole goal is to offer variety so that we can meet people's needs where they are and help them to grow."

History

"Methodism actually grew out of the Church of England," Cordova said. "And John Wesley is the founder of Methodism, although it was never his goal or intention to start a new denomination. He really wanted to reform the church he grew up in and so he was an ordained Anglican priest."

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