Glossary of Religious terms
I've put together this list of religious and church terms. I've tried to keep it simple. Seeing as I've compiled it you will probably be able to guess some of my opinions about aspects of this from looking at the list! This list isn't complete and keeps being added to.

Adoration        In our sense the praising of God's glory and the glorious things He has done.

Agape            Means 'Love Feast' and is a Christian feast in token of fellowship, which was held by early Christians in commemoration of the Last Supper. The celebration of Christian love and fellowship.

Allegorical        A story, play, poem or example where the truth or the meaning is shown symbolically. The story may be fiction, but the meaning it conveys is not.

Angel        Spiritual beings who are the messengers of God. Conventional wisdom shows them as human like creatures with wings. In reality we do not know what they look like, or what form they take. Being sent by God they could probably take any form necessary to deliver their message, or no form at all. In scripture they are referred to as bright and glorious, and some are given names (examples: Raphael, Gabriel).

Anglican        The denomination formed by churches and congregations in communion with (that is belonging to the denomination formed by) the Church of England following its split (see schism) with the Roman Catholic Church under Henry the Eighth. Churches of the Anglican communion can be found all over the world.


Apologetics        In our sense  this does not mean regretfully acknowledging or excusing. In theology, apologetics is the term given to subjects which have been tested by philosophy and theological argument and can be shown to have merit by reasoned defence.

Apostle                One chosen by Jesus to follow Him. The disciples became Apostles, when Jesus commanded them to follow him, (the great commission) sent out with a specific task or tasks, in this case to preach and baptise all people. St Paul is considered an Apostle as he received his calling on the Damascus road, he was called Saul before this. Other later Christians have been referred to Apostles, when they demonstrate similar characteristics.
Any of the 12 chief disciples of Jesus Christ, and any of a number of early Christian leaders ranked with these, such as St Paul. Apostles differ from disciples in that anyone can choose to follow Jesus, that is to be a disciple, but when one is specifically chosen by God, usually after a conversion of some kind (St Paul is again a good example) then although many qualities are similar, the Apostle is chosen rather than chooses to follow Christ. It is therefore possible to have modern Apostles, as it is disciples.

Apostolic                    of, or relating to the Apostles or the apostleship. The character of the apostle. Roman Catholics regard their leader, the Pope, as  the successor to St Peter and hence Apostolic.

Apostolic Fathers    the name given to the Christian leaders immediately after the original Apostles.

Apostolic Succession    The (some say uninterrupted) transmission of spiritual authority conveyed from the Apostles (who received it as the Great Commission from Jesus himself) to the present Bishops and Priests.      

Arianism            The doctrine of Arius of Alexandria (AD 400, approx) denying the divinity of Christ.

Assembly            A gathering or group of people in our sense for the learning about, or the worship of God. The term is often used for worship gatherings in non-religious buildings, such as School Assembly, a religious service held in a school. Assemblies can also be administrative gatherings of church leaders for deciding and directing their denominations i.e. General assembly.

Assurance        The absolute definate certainty that Jesus died that we might be set free from sin.

Baptism        One of the Christian Sacraments. Usually associated with entry into the church. The entrant is immersed completely in water to symbolise dying (to sin) and rising (out of the water) to new life. This reflects the dying (to our sin) of Jesus on the Cross, and His rising to new life. Some churches practise Baptism as total immersion (Jesus was Baptised in this way by John), whereas some churches feel that the symbolism is adequate using water that is sprinkled or poured. These latter churches usually 'finish' the Baptism by a confirmation later.

Bible             Christian Scripture (said by some to be the Word of God). The word Bible comes from the Greek Biblios which means 'library' or collection of books. The Bible is not one scripture but a collection of 66 books of scripture. Originally there were more books of scripture (they still exist) but the church in earlier times (the Jewish Sanhedrin & the Roman Catholic church) edited the list and included only what was thought  the most worthy (critics of this will say 'what suited the church' and in some senses they are right). The remainder of the books of scripture were either rejected as being of no value to the Christain religion, or else of 'secondary status' and were included in another collection of scripture called the 'Apocrypha' (which means 'hidden writings').

Bishop        A high ranking minister above a priest in Episcopal churches. Bishops beware! There's Archbishops above you...

Church        The gathering of people who worship God by following Jesus. A worldwide community of people with more or less the same set of beliefs, but with a joyful amount of variation in what they believe! The church is not a building. Theologians speak of the 'Visible Church' and the 'Invisible Church'. The visible church being those things you can see, the people, the vestments, the buildings. The invisible church being the love and actions of God at work in the world through His people.

Congregation         A group of people who's association to each other is a shared belief, their Christian religion. They are the 'church', not the building they gather in.

Coptic Church        The Egyptian church based on the copt langauge.

Criticism            In theology this does not mean to find fault or to be negative. Rather it means making or using judgements. Balanced judgements about scripture or historic events, philosophically examining all possibilities and events concerned, then forming an opinion about what actually happened (or did not). There are various form of criticism: Form Criticism, Redactive Criticism etc.

Cross Denominational Mission (us!)

Deacon     The first (lowest) of the three episcopal ministers, the others being Priest, then Bishop. The term deacon exists in non-episcopal churches too, usually for an assistant minister, or junior minister.

Dean        The head of a chapter (group of clergy) of a cathedral or collegiate church. Very often the Dean is the head priest conducting worship in the cathedral itself, and the bishop presides over the whole diocese.

Diocese        A group of churches (parishes) that come under the episcopal oversight of a bishop. The word diocese comes from the latin for 'fifty', from which it can be inferred that originally fifty or so churches came under each bishop. The diocese is today the administrative unit. The diocese  will have a principal church, a cathedral, (and usually one or two other principal churches too). The diocese will have an administrative council called synod or similar, a diocesan bishop and assistants (called suffragans or adjutors). The diocese will administer schools and property and represent the parishes via social responsibilty committees, clergy committees etc.

Disciple        One who chooses to follow Christ.

Dissenter        (historic) A member of a non- established church, in a land where there was an official (established) church. For example, Baptists in 16th Century England.

Elim Church        Church denomination whose name derives from Elohim, the Hebrew name for God.

Episcopal        Churches that have a threefold ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

Escatology        Means 'the final things' and is the part og theology concerned with death and final destiny, of ourselves and of the world. What happens when we die? is a question posed in escatalogical study.

'Established Church'         A church that is regarded in law as the 'official' church of that country. The Church of England in England, and the church of Scotland in Scotland for example. All other churches in these two countries are recognised, but do not carry the legal priviledges or burdens that the established churches carry. Other churches do of course have legal obligations, but there are differences. For example, when marrying in church, the established churches have a different legal framework than other churches (see Marriage section & Banns & licence) The seperate laws which apply to established churches are called 'Canonical Law' (and Canonical Law is real law not just regulations). There are varying degrees of 'established-ness' some national churches are completely interwoven into the fabric of society and culture, others less so, some only in name.

Eschatology    Means the doctrine of 'Last Things'. This is a phenomenen in the future and/or outside of our world. We have no way of knowing what they are except by Divine Revelation. The four categories of Last Things are: Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven.

Evangelist        The dictionary says 'any one of the four gospel writiers'. mmmmm! I tend to feel it is more: Someone who has an interest in sharing the gospel, spreading the Good News (which is what 'gospel' means).

Excegesis        Critical explanation of a scripture or scriptural text. The origin of the word means interpret. Here when we say critical we do not mean derogatory or negative, rather  it is an objective explanation after study and enquiry. The emphasis is on getting to the true explanation and meaning, without the bias or opinons of the translator, or of any other body (like the medieval church) getting in the way. Excegesis often follows some form of constructive criticism, see 'criticism'.

Eucharist        The Holy Communion service. The word 'Eucharist' means thanksgiving. Eucharist is communion with a flavour of thankfulness for the sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus.

Filioque        This is the word given to a phrase which means 'and the Son'. Obviously a trinitarian theory it has been the subject of huge amounts of heated debate for centuries in various churches and theological circles. It has been at the centre of division and scism and remains so. Unitarian believers beware! The discussions surrounding this have profound implications for all believers and even if you are vehemently unitarian, anything which is to do with 'the Son' meaning Christ is central to your faith also.

First Fruits

Jehovah         The 'name' of God as translated from ancient scrolls and scripture. Sort of means: 'I am who I am', or 'I am'. Later translations feel that 'Yahweh' is a more accurate representation of it. From the Tetragammon. See Yahweh below.

Heaven            Heaven is not a place: it is a state. It is being with God, that is to say connected with God. It is a state of the utmost satisfaction, joy and glory by being with God. It is a mutual state also for God would not have us in heaven reluctantly. Previously people were taught that heaven was 'above'. Mistakenly (probably due to thinking that heaven was a place) people took this to mean a place in the sky. Scripture referring to '...and God made the heavens above...' etc. does not help this.

Hell                Hell is the opposite to heaven. It is a state, not a place. It is being utterly removed from and seperated from God. Hell is truly terrible. You can be in the most beautiful place and wonderful surroundings and be 'in hell'. Hell is self imposed: God does not put us there, we do it to ourselves (and sometimes to those around us).  There is no fire in hell. This was an allegorical 'symbol' which originated from the continually burning rubbish dumps around Jerusalem the Holy City, called Hades, which were used to illustrate what hell might be like.

Messiah            Means 'Promised Deliverer' The awaited hero who would save everyone. The Hebrew people had an idea in their culture of the what the messiah (Christ is another word for messiah) would be like. Jesus did not fit their profile. Those that recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ obviously do!

Miracle             An extraordinary event usually attributed to a supernatural or Godly cause. An unusual event, remarkable, definately not usual. Early (and some contemporary) Christians took them a special signs from God. Can we prove they exist? Yes. Can we reproduce them or explain how they happen? No.

Mission            A particular course or task undertaken by a religious group.

Monotheism    Religions which only worship one God. Christianity is Monotheist but has polytheist overtones:- there is only one God, but some think of God represented by three elements (Father, son, Holy Spirit, see Trinity) whereas others do not (see Unitarian). Both sorts of Christian view their own beliefs as monotheist, although there have been tensions over this for years. There has been opinion that the inclusion of saints makes Christian worship polytheist: this fails to recognise that Christians place God as Principal, and above all other.

Mystery Religions

Myth                        A verbal tradition, a narrative  which tells of popular or religious ideas. Unfortunately the word myth is used to convey something which is untruthful in contemporary wisdom. For our purposes a myth is usually an allegorical story, a fictional story to illustrate a religious truth.

Non-conformist    (historic).

Obedience                The state of compliance to God's commands, instructions and advice to us. When we comply, we are obedient. Usually we are not.

Omnipotence            God's great and unlimited power, absolute power.

Omniprescence        God's being in all places and at all times. Present everywhere at the same time. Constantly available throughout every dimension. It is sometimes helpful to think of this as a state rather than a place, because our limited understanding has difficulty grasping the concept of omipresence. God is all things to all people all of the time.

Ordination                The sacrament of appointing a person to a Holy Order. It means to 'set apart' in the sense of dedicating one's entire life to the calling.

Original Sin            The concept that we were made perfect but are responsible for our downfall. Told in Genesis that Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The subsequent depravity of all mankind following that fall.

Orthodox                Holding 'correct' or currently accepted doctrines

Orthodox Church        The churches which acknowledge the authority of the patriarch of Constantinople (as opposed to, say, the Pope). Includes the national churches of Greece, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania and others.

Pantheism    The belief that God is manifest in physical things usually plants and animals. I don't believe that God needs to pretend to be anything other than what he is. So this has very little impression on me. At worst pantheism tries to compress God into a plant or animal etc.

Paradise    Heaven as the ultimate reward and home of those who have served God well. Joy above measure. So, like heaven, paradise is a state, not a place.

Parousia        The second (or a subsequent) coming of the Messiah, Jesus. What will happen when Jesus returns. Once the great hunting ground of unorthodox evangelicals

Paschal        Of, or relating to the Passover, a hebrew feast of sacrifice. We use it to refer to the sacrifice Jesus made for us in sacrificing himself. This is our passover: Christ our paschal lamb sacrificed for us.

Passover        A feast of sacrifice in ancient hebrew times animals were killed, presented to the temple and eaten in memorial of God.

Pastor         A minister  whose emphasis is on spiritual caring and support. Usually not episcopal, although episcopal ministers do carry out pastoral tasks. Many pentecostal and 'free' churches call their ministers 'Pastor'.

Pluralism        A theory of religion which holds more than one ultimate principal (god), or alternatively, several methods of achieving a relationship with God.

Priest         The second (and numerically most common) minister in the episcopal system. One who represents ordinary people to God.

Polytheism    Religions which recognise many gods are polytheist.

Prayer            A sincere request to God, or a thanksgiving to God. Communication with Him on the Spiritual plane.

Predestination    The belief that God has already decided what the outcome will be all throughout time and that all things are just 'playing through' a predetermined course. Predestination would mean we do not have free will and our decisions are not really ours, God having already decided what will happen. I don't buy this. If I did, we could not sin: God had already decided what we would do. God could not ask us to believe in Him, as he would have already decided what we would do and think. God is not false: the free will and almost unlimited decisions he has given to us are real. We live or die, and others live or die by our decisions. God has devolved some of his power to us. This is why many believe we are stewards of creation. Responsibility is only possible if predestination does not exist.

Propitiation        In this sense atonement, particularly Christs' atonement for our sins by His sacrifice on the cross.

Prophecy            The expounding of God's will. Usually demonstrated by foretelling future events. Interpretation of what God will do.

Prophet                 A person who makes prophecy

Purgatory            The condition of or the supposed place of  spiritual cleansing. Those who die in the grace of God but still have unconfessed sin. The state of temporary suffering to  expiate sin.

Redemption            A persons deliverence from sin and the effects of sin.

Reformation            (i) The act of reforming or renewing in an altered form. (ii) The 16th century movement which sought to address abuses in the Roman Church and brought about the protestant and the reformed churches.

Repentance            The condition of feeling deep sorrow and remorse for ones actions. Particularly for actions which are contrary to God's will for us (sins).

Resurrection            Christs rising from the dead. That is, still being alive after being put to death on the cross. Also sometimes used to say how the dead will rise, and be restored at the Last Judgement, to face God's enquiry of their motives and actions.

Revelation                Understanding of matters which we can only get because God chooses to reveal them to us. That is, knowledge which we cannot get by calculation, observation or experiment.

Rite                    (i) A body which holds common customary religious observances. A part of a church like Latin Rite or Liberal Rite. (ii) Also means an act of religious observance such as a burial rite.

Ritual                The prescribed order or sequence of acting out a rite. For example, the burial rite is a ritual.

Romantic Movement        A body of people who adopted a particular style of European art in the 18th and 19th centuries. This style influenced religious art of the period.

Sabellian            Those that are considered Sabian. That is those who believe in the true God.

Sacrament            A religious ceremony or act where there are outward and physical signs of an inward and God given grace.

Sacrifice               The act of giving up something of value for something of even higher worth. Christ giving himself to die on the cross, the ultimate sacrifice, was giving himself up (giving the life of the Son of God), but in doing so achieved everlasting life for us all, for ever. The Eucharist, (or Mass) is a re-enactment of that sacrifice and is a sacrifice of its own.

Sacristan            One in charge of the sacristy and its contents.

Sacristy                A room in a church where the vestments and sacred vessels are kept and prepared.

Salvation             Being 'saved'

Sanctification    Being purified or cleaned of the effects of sin. Some say being made holy.

Sanctum        A Holy Place. Sanctum Sanctorum = Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem.

Sanctus    Prayer or hymn which starts 'Holy,Holy,Holy...' in the Eucharist.

Sanctuary            The reserved or most holy place in a church or temple. Usually the place containing the high altar.

Satan            The devil, and enemy of good. Sometimes reckoned to be Lucifer, once an angel, who became evil and a fallen angel.

Schism             means split or division, usually dramatic and acrimonious

Scripture        Sacred writings. The Bible is a collection of these.

Secularisation        The effect of concerns only for this world, the 'here and now'. No concern for religious or spiritual concepts. Non-ecclesial, non-religious.

Sin            Doing wrong: knowingly doing wrong, especially against God. Breaking religious or moral rules.
Socinian       

Son of God            Jesus, the Christ. The only begotten Son of the Father, born of Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Son of Man            The name Jesus used of himself instead of the above name.

Soul                    The spiritual or non-physical part of a person. The moral, emotional, intellectual and spiritual components of a persons thinking.

Source Criticism        The scrutinising and objective analysing of the source of information, in order to learn more about the information itself and the context in which it was given or meant to be understood.

Suffering                Undergo hardship, pain, hunger, etc. Very often in religion as a part of development into something better.

Suffragan    Suffragan Bishop, usually. Means Assistant Bishop.

Trinity        The concept that the one God is represented by three 'persons' God (the Father), Jesus Christ (the Son) and the Holy Spirit. It is a theological 'model' to help us
understand something which is beyond our understanding. Critics claim it is not real. I feel that misses the point. There is only one God. There is only one me. Yet I am a Father to my sons & daughters, I am a son to my parents, and I am husband to my wife, yet there is only one of me. To each of them I am something different, yet I am only one being. The Trinity theory has caused much tension. Unnecessary tension I feel.

Unitarian        One who holds an anti-trinitarian belief.

Vicar    a term for a priest usually of an established church with catholic background. The word means 'representative of' and hence the vicar is the priest who acts on behalf of, and as instructed by, a bishop. Roman Catholics see their leader, the Pope as the 'Vicar of Christ' implying the Pope is Christs representative. Vicar Capitular: a clergyman leading a church, representing it and its beliefs, in the absense of the proper leader; usually during an interregnum (which is gap in the leadership).

Yahweh            The 'Name' of God as derived from the 'Tetragammon' the four letters in scripture where God reveals His name as 'Iam who I am'. The four letters JHVH or YHWH depending on scolarly approach to the translation are given and in English turn out as either Jehovah or Yahweh when the vowels are added (there are no vowels in the original language). At one time Jehovah was the translation but sebsequent scholarly effort arrived at Yahweh which is considered more accurate.