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Message of faith

Editors Note: This is the first of a series of articles focusing on the various denominations found throughout Crenshaw County. Once a month we will explore the basic principles and beliefs of a certain faith and religion.

Over 400 unique souls settled into the plush green chairs of South Luverne Baptist Church on Saturday night.

Before long, though, they were standing, their hands and voices lifted in praise.

Travis Cottrell, renowned Gospel singer, and his Praise Team captivated the audience with music and verse; all centered around the worship of Jesus Christ and God the Father. Mandisa Hundley, one of Cottrell's singers, sent her soprano voice soaring through the roof of the church. Behind the stage, a movie screen played the words to all the songs for the benefit of those attending.

The songs were modern, heavy on drumbeats, a bass guitar and Cottrell's piano playing. In between, the singer mixed in a few Gospel standards, the hymns of yesteryear.

Singing has always been an intricate part of the church worship service. Especially southern churches and in the south, singings are often punctuated with meals and fellowship. Such was the case on Saturday night.

The churches that adhere to the Southern Baptist Convention dot the landscape of Alabama like needlepoint. It is the church of both country and city folk. Entire generations have passed through life as Southern Baptists. For some, it is the church of their family and a traditional haven for fellowship. For others, it is a beacon point of familiarity where friends become closer to one another.

The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 in Augusta, Ga. Over 16 million people currently consider themselves Southern Baptists and adhere to its belief system. There are more Southern Baptist churches in the nation than any other denomination, including the Roman Catholic Church.

The basis of Southern Baptist belief, said South Luverne Pastor Mike Green, is the Holy Bible and the birth, death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

"We believe in the Word of God," he said. "Our faith is in Jesus Christ and His coming again. We believe in being obedient to the Great Commission and to go win disciples. We believe in Baptism, not as an act of salvation, but as an act of obedience. It is a public display of profession of faith. We believe that God gifts people and that everyone should find a church to serve in."

Green has been pastor at South Luverne for 14 years. Prior to that he was Pentecostal, a faith and its followers that he still loves. He explains that, as a Southern Baptist, he are any of his congregation aren't out to 'steal' members away from one church or the other.

"We just want people to make church a part of their lives," he said. "Whether it is with us, Assembly of God, or whoever. We're here to compliment and not to compete."

In truth, cooperation among the various denominations is a basic belief of the Southern Baptist Convention. Traditionally, the church observes the Lord's Supper as well, an act done to memorialize the death of Jesus. Evangelism and mission work are also central beliefs of Southern Baptists. Annually, the Southern Baptist Convention contributes to thousands of charities worldwide.

Despite all the good, the Southern Baptist Convention has had its share of conflicts. Among other issues, the denomination was actually founded because of divisiveness on the slavery issue and Baptists in the South felt their need for missionaries were largely ignored in the North. In the 70s, Moderates opposed a strict interpretation of the Bible and were more in favor of changing to reflect society at the time. 1998 saw the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the SBC's largest state convention, split from the association.

Green, himself, welcomes a return to conservatism.

"There was a point in time when the convention itself was leaning toward the liberal side, but there's been a resurgence of commitment to the scripture," he said. "So I think we're on the right track now."

While some churches may downplay their views of eternal damnation, choosing instead to focus on the rewards waiting in Heaven for work done here in Earth, Green said the concept of Hell is very much alive within a Southern Baptist church.

"We believe in Heaven and we believe in Hell," he said. "We believe a commitment to Jesus Christ will guarantee you eternal life and the opposite of that gift is eternal separation from God. It's one of those truths of the Bible that people really don't want to look at. But the Lord said there would be judgment."