Visiting Churches

52 Churches Glossary

A Quick Start Guide to Key Terms in 52 Churches

Some terms in the book 52 Churches may not be familiar to all readers, such as those who don’t go to church, those accustomed to one denomination, or those familiar with only one stream of Christianity.

These definitions aren’t comprehensive, as they provide only information relevant to the book. Also included are context and commentary when it might help.

Apostles’ Creed: A formal statement of faith, concisely summarizing core Christian beliefs. Many churches recite this in unison during their church services. Widely accepted, it dates to the fourth century, possibly earlier. An alternative, and longer, creed is the Nicene Creed.

baptism: A religious ritual or spiritual ceremony involving water. It has various forms, ranging from applying, to sprinkling, to full body immersion (“dunking”). It also possesses various meanings, from a profession of belief, to preparation for a future faith, to a required ritual. Sadly, much disagreement, and even physical confrontation, has surrounded baptism and its various practices over the centuries.

baptistry: The place where baptisms occur. Depending on the method, the baptistry may be a font providing water to sprinkle on the recipient (especially infants) or a tub or pool for the immersion of a person into water.

Baptist: 1) Various Christian denominations include Baptist in their name and go by baptist. They fall into the evangelical stream of Christianity. 2) Generally, a baptist is one who practices baptism of adult believers as a sign of faith.

Bible: The central book of Christian faith. It is comprised of various genres, from many authors, written over a span of a couple millennia. It’s often called God’s Word or the Holy Bible, and believers regard it with reverence.

call: 1) A formal process by which a church congregation invites or hires a minister to work at or lead their church; they issue a call. 2) A supernatural sense of God’s leading to direct Christians to take a specific action; they feel called by God.

charismatic: One of the three main streams of Protestantism. The other two are mainline and evangelical.

Chrislam: A comingling of Christianity and Islam.

Christian: A person who is like Christ or Jesus; someone who follows or aligns with Jesus.

Church/church: 1) The universal collective of people who follow Jesus. 2) A denomination or local congregation. 3) The physical building where Christians meet, often on Sunday.

clergy: Formally trained or ordained church leaders, often paid. Also known as ministers, priests, and pastors. Contrast to laity.

closed communion: Communion offered only to members or those formally approved to receive it. Contrast to open communion.

communion: An act initiated by Jesus of symbolically sharing bread (or crackers or wafers) and wine (or grape juice) to remind his followers of his sacrificial death. Christians have continued this practice in various forms. It’s also called Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Mass, the Eucharist, or Holy Eucharist.

congregation: A group of Christians who regularly meet together as a formalized group.

consubstantial: (adjective) the persons of the Christian godhead, who are three persons in one. See Trinity.

contemporary service: A church meeting that follows present-day practices in their music, message, and format. Contrast to traditional service and compare to seeker-sensitive.

cross: The Romans—in collusion with Jewish religious leadership—executed, or crucified, Jesus on a cross. It became a symbol for his followers. It has taken on diverse meanings and significances over the centuries and across various Christian practices. Most church sanctuaries have one or more crosses. Many people expect to see crosses in churches. Crosses are common in Protestant faith practices, which celebrate Jesus as the risen savior. Compare to crucifix.

crucifix: A replica of Jesus on a cross, which celebrates him as the dying savior. Crucifixes are common in Roman Catholic faith practices. Compare to cross.

deacon: A person, often elected or appointed, who fills various service or leadership roles in a local church or denomination. Some churches have both elders and deacons, whereas others just have deacons. Not all churches have deacons.

denomination: An organization of like-minded churches sharing a common affinity, beliefs, or history. Some denominations exercise tight oversight of their local congregations, whereas others serve more as a resource or means for interchurch cooperation. Once important to most Christians, denominations now carry less significance, with increasing numbers of people seeking nondenominational or unaffiliated congregations.

Easter: A significant Christian holiday celebrating Jesus’s resurrection, having nothing in common with the secular practice of Easter bunnies and eggs.

ecumenical: Generically, relating to worldwide Christianity or the universal church. There are also formal ecumenical organizations, which seek unity and the civil co-existence of diverse Christian expressions, beliefs, and practices. In a broader sense, but not used in this book, ecumenical can also embrace all religions and forms of spirituality.

elder: A person, often elected or appointed, who fills various service or leadership roles in a local church or denomination. Some churches have both elders and deacons, whereas others just have elders. Not all churches have elders.

elements: The two components of communion: bread (sometimes represented by crackers or wafers) and wine (or grape juice).

Enemy: Satan; the devil.

ESV: English Standard Version, a translation of the Bible.

Eucharist: See communion.

evangelical: One of the three main streams of Protestantism. The other two are mainline and charismatic.

expository preaching: A style of biblical instruction that can take many forms, but most of the time it’s a minister or teacher explaining a passage of the Bible, verse by verse. An alternate style is topical preaching. Both have their advocates and detractors.

faith: 1) A set of religious beliefs. 2) Confidence in what is unknown or intangible.

faith community: 1) A local church. 2) Any gathering of like-minded people of faith.

fast/fasting: To give up something, usually food, for a time, often associated with Lent.

fundamental: See evangelical.

Gospel: 1) The good news or message of Jesus. 2) One of the four biographies of Jesus in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

high church: In a generic sense, a more formal church service that shuns modernism and uses liturgy. The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches exemplify this, as do many mainline (“name brand”) churches. Contrast to low church.

Holy Bible: See Bible.

hymn: A religious song, typically older and traditional, usually formal and sung with organ accompaniment, and often in Old English. Some worship leaders update the words and use guitar accompaniment to make hymns more accessible to postmodern audiences.

hymnal: A book that contains the words and music for hundreds of hymns; some also include modern songs and choruses.

intinction: One method of taking Communion, by dipping the bread (or cracker) into the juice (or wine) and partaking of the two elements together.

Jesus: The central character in the New Testament and the basis for Christian faith. He is part of the Christian Godhead, or Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

KJV: King James Version, a translation of the Bible, commissioned by King James of England in the early 1600s. Although formal, using Elizabethan English, it remains a popular version. It’s the only English version of the Bible in the public domain and not subject to copyright restrictions. This is likely one reason for its ongoing use.

laity: The attendees of a local church; not a minister. Contrast to clergy.

layperson: A non-ordained (not a minister) participant in a local church. See laity.

Lent: The forty days before Easter, starting with Ash Wednesday and sometimes accompanied by fasting or penance in preparation for, or anticipation of, Easter.

Lectionary: A structured list of Bible passages designed to methodically cover the entire Bible over time, with three years being common. Some churches, often high churches, incorporate the lectionary into their weekly service and some ministers use it as the foundation for their teaching each Sunday.

liturgy: A formal, written portion of a church service, said in unison or responsively. Advocates of liturgy appreciate its standard wording, which has often withstood time. It offers a thorough, theologically inclusive faith practice. Detractors label it as rigid and not open to local expressions or the Holy Spirit’s leading. See high church, which tends to be liturgical and low church, which tends to be non-liturgical.

Lord’s Prayer: The prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Many congregations recite this prayer in unison as part of their service. The prayer is in Matthew 6:9–13. Some people call this prayer the “Our Father,” based on its first two words. Some churches (often Protestant) include an addendum to the prayer, which isn’t in all Bibles. Other churches (such as Roman Catholic) omit this extra text.

Lord’s Supper: See communion.

low church: A useful, but perhaps derogatory, term to describe the opposite of high church. Low churches are less traditional and more current than high churches. Their services typically avoid liturgy. Evangelical and charismatic churches are generally low churches. Contrast to high church.

kneeling rails: A piece of furniture found in some churches, often part of pews, to provide a more comfortable way for congregants to kneel, either before the service or as part of it.

mainline: One of the three main streams of Protestantism. The other two are evangelical and charismatic.

mass: Also known as the Eucharist, the main act of worship at a Roman Catholic Church. See communion.

May Crowning: A traditional Roman Catholic celebration that occurs each May to honor the Virgin Mary.

message: The sermon, teaching, or lecture portion of a church service.

minister: 1) (noun) A person, often formally trained and ordained, who heads up a local church. See clergy. 2) (verb) The act of serving or helping others.

Missal: A liturgical book of instructions and texts needed to celebrate mass in the Roman Catholic Church.

modern: In this book, used to reference the modern era, which is roughly the last five centuries. To minimize confusion, other applications warranting the word modern in this book use contemporary or present-day instead. Contrast to postmodern and premodern.

NAB: New American Bible, a translation of the Bible, often used by the Roman Catholic Church.

NASB: New American Standard Bible, a translation of the Bible, updating the American Standard Bible (ASB).

Nicene Creed: A formal statement of faith, concisely summarizing core Christian beliefs. Some churches recite this in unison during their church services. A more common alternative is the shorter Apostles’ Creed. See Apostles’ Creed.

NIV: New International Version, a translation of the Bible. It is one of the most popular and commonly used versions.

NKJV: New King James Version, a translation of the Bible that updates the Old English found in the KJV.

NLT: New Living Translation, a present-day paraphrase of the Bible.

nondenominational: A church that is not part of a denomination. They are independent of outside influence, governance, or oversight. Contrast to denomination.

Non-liturgical: The opposite of liturgical. A non-liturgical church service doesn’t use prescribed texts or scripts as part of its proceedings. Contrast to liturgical.

NRSV: New Revised Standard Version, a translation of the Bible that updates the older RSV (Revised Standard Version).

nursery: Many churches provide a nursery to care for children while their parents or caregivers attend the church service.

ordination: A formal approval process, often culminating in a reverent ceremony, whereby a church or denomination officially recognizes a person to serve as a minister.

open communion: Communion offered to both church members and nonmembers, albeit often with some limitations, such as affirming a basic set of beliefs or having been baptized. Some churches place no restrictions whatsoever on people partaking communion. Contrast to closed communion.

Our Father: See Lord’s Prayer.

outreach: To go beyond oneself or church to serve, help, or tell others about Jesus.

pastor: See minister and compare to priest and clergy.

penance: An act often associated with Lent where people express sorrow over their wrongdoing. This can take the form of fasting, contrition, confession, the acceptance of punishment, and, in extreme cases, though not recommended, self-mortification.

pews: Wooden benches, sometimes with padding, used in many traditional church sanctuaries for attendees to sit on during services. Many contemporary churches opt for chairs instead of pews.

postmodern: That which follows the modern era; the present time. In general, younger people have a postmodern perspective, whereas older folks have a modern one. Contrast to modern and premodern.

praise: To exalt, extol, or worship God.

pray/prayer: Communication with God, sometimes formally and other times informally. Prayer can include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and requests for self or others.

premodern: The period of history just prior to the modern era and following the ancient era. Some of today’s traditional church practices emanate from the premodern era. Although having pronounced differences, there are also similarities between the premodern and postmodern mindset. Contrast to modern and postmodern.

priest: The recognized authority in Roman Catholic Churches, and some high churches, who conducts worship services, administers the sacraments, and handles the daily functions of a local parish. Compare to minister and see clergy.

Protestant: One facet of Christianity. See streams of Protestantism.

pulpit supply: A formal or informal source of people—sometimes trained and ordained, but not always—who can conduct a church service and give a message when the regular minister is unavailable.

resurrection: To rise from the dead. Jesus resurrected from the dead after his execution. Christians celebrate his resurrection on Easter.

ritual: 1) An established, prescribed order of a religious ceremony. 2) Part of an established religious routine or church practice, often subconscious. All churches have rituals, but not all realize it.

Robert’s Rules of Order: An organized set of instructions used to conduct formal decision-making at meetings. Some churches conduct their meetings using Robert’s Rules of Order, either directly or implicitly.

Roman Catholic: One branch of Christianity. See streams of Christianity.

sacrificial death: Christians see Jesus’s execution on the cross as a sacrificial death, completely fulfilling the ritual sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament of the Bible.

sacraments: a standard rite or religious ritual of spiritual significance. Protestants celebrate two sacraments: baptism and communion. Roman Catholics have seven, which include baptism and communion.

salvation: Brought into right standing with God. Within Christianity, there are varied understandings of what constitutes salvation.

sanctuary: The primary section of most church buildings where worship takes place.

seeker-sensitive: Making a church service as accessible as possible to visitors and those unfamiliar with church practices.

sermon: See message.

special music: A song performed at a church service. Many churches, especially contemporary ones, have moved away from this in favor of participatory forms of worship.

Stations of the Cross: A series of artistic representations of Jesus’s final hours on earth, from his capture through to his resurrection from the dead. These are common in Roman Catholic Churches, as well as other high churches.

streams of Christianity: The three main segments of Christian faith: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. Compare to streams of Protestantism.

streams of Protestantism: The three main segments of Protestant faith: mainline (liberal), evangelical (conservative or fundamental), and charismatic (often Pentecostal). Compare to streams of Christianity.

supernatural: Relating to the spiritual, not corporeal.

tentmaker: A minister who doesn’t receive compensation from the church they serve, but instead works a day job to be self-supporting. It is a reference to Paul in the Bible who sometimes worked his trade as a tentmaker to support himself in his ministry and not rely on donations.

tithe: Giving ten percent, or one tenth, of income to the church.

The Message: A present-day paraphrase of the Bible.

traditional service: A church service that follows older practices in their music, message, and format. Contrast to contemporary service and seeker-sensitive.

Trinity: The Christian Godhead, or simply God, consisting of God the Father, God the Savior—Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit, but understood as being three entities in one.

Vacation Bible School: Also known as VBS, a short session of summer classes for children that focus on the Bible or biblical principles. It uses kid-friendly teaching, activities, and games. Usually lasting a week or two, Vacation Bible School sometimes culminates in a program for parents. Motivations for conducting VBS vary, from giving biblical instruction, to providing a break in the summer routine, to offering fun activities to kids, or as a community outreach.

Virgin Mary: The mother of Jesus, supernaturally impregnated by the Holy Spirit.

worship: 1) (verb) To show honor, reverence, and adoration to God in various forms. 2) (noun) A church service, as in a worship service.

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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