Some of the following topics do not yet have a definition. If you would like to propose a definition, or recommend a change to a definition, please send an email to the editor@ecumenism.net“editor.

A-Z

absolution
the ritual declaration of the forgiveness (or absolving) of sins. Absolution takes various forms in different church traditions. An indicative absolution — I absolve you — is found in the Roman Rite, a precatory absolution — May God forgive you — is used in the Eastern Orthodox and most Anglican rituals. A declarative form used in many Protestant churches is not a true absolution, but rather a simple proclamation of the gospel: God has forgiven you.
acolytes
a person assisting in the liturgical service, such as an altar server. Lay acolytes may wear a simple alb.
adiaphora
literally, things that do not make a difference. A distinction between core doctrines of the church and those upon which disagreement can be tolerated without endangering unity.
alb
a liturgical vestment worn by clergy or other participants in communal worship. Traditionally worn by acolytes, the alb is also worn by deacons with a diaconal stole, or by a priest under the chasuble. In recent decades the alb has been worn by clergy from Protestant traditions that are re-discovering the traditional liturgical vestments. In this context, the most common practice is for clergy to wear the alb with a stole.
altar
amillenialism
a form of eschatology that understands the millenium described in Rev. 20 as a symbol of the church age. This contrasts with both premillenialism and postmillenialism which consider the biblical text as a description of a coming age.
anamnesis
Remembering, the opposite of amnesia. In a Christian context, anamnesis refers to the eucharistic remembering referred to by Jesus in the Last Supper or Eucharist: “do this in remembrance of me.” Anamnesis is understood differently in various sacramental theologies.
Anglican
an adjective referring to the Church of England and those churches that historically and theologically are related to her. Also used in reference to a person from one of these churches.
Anglican Communion
a fellowship of Anglican churches in communion with the See of Canterbury.
antinomian
from the Greek “nomos” (law), meaning “against law,” used to describe the rejection of the moral law from the Christian experience. In particular it represents the assertion that once the Gospel was promulgated the moral law was not binding upon Christians as law. Strongly rejected by Paul the Apostle and later by Martin Luther and others, insisting that the doctrine of justification by faith alone leaves no room for persistence in sin.
apocalypse
apostle
one who is sent. In Christian usage it refers primarily to the early church apostles, sent by Jesus. Paul the Apostle claims the title on account of his mystical vision experience on the road to Damascus that leads to his conversion and his mission to the gentiles.
Apostle’s Creed
apostolic
apostolic succession
assembly
Assumption (of Mary)
The Roman Catholic dogma of the physical bodily assumption of Mary into heaven at the point of death. Declared a dogma in 1950, the Assumption is related to the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth and the Eastern doctrine of the Dormition of Mary.
authority
baptism
basilica
bishop
canon law
canon (of Scripture)
cathedral
the principal church of a diocese, the location of the bishop’s “cathedra”, or chair. Cathedrals are frequently larger and older than other parishes in the diocese, however the designation of a parish as a cathedral is dependent only on the decision of the bishop to situate the cathedra in this church. Translation of the the cathedra to another parish is very rare.
catholic
Catholic Church
Chalcedon, Council of
chasuble
a liturgical vestment worn by the priest presiding at the Eucharist. Similar to a poncho, the chasuble is worn over the alb and stole. Chasubles are decorated according to the liturgical season
Chrismation
Christening
Christology
the study or reflection on the person of Jesus, particularly the theological discipline attempting to answer Jesus’ question “who do you say that I am?”
church
ciborium
a bowl-shaped vessel with a cover used to hold the hosts before, during and after the Eucharistic liturgy.
collegiality
communion
1. fellowship

2. a relationship between churches (ecclesial communion) or between individual Christians

3. the sacrament of the Eucharist

4. the liturgical sharing of the eucharistic elements.

confession
1) sacrament or ritual practice associated with forgiveness and reconciliationwith God. Auricular Confession (i.e. personal disclosure of sins to a priest) is the first element of the sacrament of penance. Contrition, the imposition of penance, and absolution complete the sacrament. Although not considered a sacrament by many Western churches, some churches have retained confessional practices similar to the Roman Catholic private confession. Liturgical reforms in the Roman Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council have led to the development of “reconciliation services” as a prelude to private confession or in some circumstances general absolution.

2) a document containing a statement of faith, normally those that arise from the Protestant Reformation. Examples such as the Augsburg Confession and the Westminster Confession have been of great importance in the formation and preservation of doctrinal identity for their adherents.

confirmation
Considered a sacrament in the Catholic Church, confirmation is the third of the sacraments of initiation. It derives liturgically from the rite of Chrismation, an anointing with oil after baptism. In the Eastern churches, Chrismation remains connected to baptism. Confirmation and Chrismation are both understood as the seal of the Holy Spirit.
conversion
Coptic
the culture and ritual associated with the ancient Christian church in Egypt. The Coptic Church has its patriarch in Alexandria in the ancient See of St. Mark.
Counter Reformation
A period of reform of discipline and liturgy inaugurated by the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant Reformation.
curia
a term used to refer to the staff of a bishop. Common usage is in reference to the Vatican Curia, the staff of the Holy See.
deacon
a clerical order called to a ministry of service (Greek: diakonia) in the world. See diaconate. Women have been ordained or consecrated as deaconesses in various parts of the church throughout Christian history, though their ministry has been relatively invisible until lately.
dean
diaconate
the order of deacons. The first of the three orders of ministry (deacons, priests, and bishops). Candidates for priesthood and episcopacy are first ordained to the transitional diaconate. In the Western church, the permanent diaconate disappeared in the Middle Ages. It reappears in some Protestant churches in the 18th century, in the Anglican church, and after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church.
dialogue
an exchange or conversation between two or more parties. Unlike a monologue which involves a single speaker and point of view, a dialogue allows an intercourse between differing perspectives. Contrary to some modern usage, dialogue does not refer to a conversation between two, and thus the proposed term “trialogue” is nonsensical. The prefix “dia” refers to the interchange of multiple parties or perspectives.
diocese
a region of governance in the ancient Roman Empire. The term was adopted in the early church to refer to territory under the pastoral care of a bishop.
disciple
literally, one who follows. The Greek term discipolos was used in the ancient world to refer to those who followed an itinerant teacher. The term is used in the New Testament to refer to those who followed Jesus during his ministry. The twelve disciples are the model for Christian discipleship.
dispensationalism
a form of premillenialism that considers that the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecies will occur in the future just before Christ’s return. History is divided into eras, or dispensations, each of which is a new test of humanity ending in judgement, each inaugurated with a new covenant (i.e. Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic). Dispensationalism was popularised by John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren. See also eschatology, premillenialism, pretribulationism.
doctrine
dogma
Dormition (of Mary)
Literally the “falling asleep”, the Eastern Orthodox teaching that the Virgin Mary is preserved from death by “falling asleep.” The Eastern church’s counterpart to the Roman Catholic dogma of the Assumption of Mary.
Eastern Catholic
refers to the people and churches of the twenty-two Eastern churches in communion with the bishop of Rome. The Eastern Catholic churches are self-governing according to the Eastern code of canon law, although they are not independent. These churches are sometimes called uniate churches, in reference to the process by which they entered communion with the Holy See.
Eastern churches
ecclesia, ekklesia
Latin and Greek words for church, literally meaning to be called together, to be assembled, to be sent forth
ecclesiology
theology of the church; the division of theology that is concerned with the nature and purpose of the church
ecumenism, ecumenical
ecumenical council
encyclical
letters from the pope to the church, normally addressing doctrinal and disciplinary concerns. They have the highest authority level in the ordinary teaching magisterium of the church.
episcopacy
episcopal
episcopé
eschatology
Eucharist
Evangelical
from the Greek “evangelion” referring to the Good News. Numerous uses of the term can be found.

1) used in reference to the churches of the Protestant Reformation. Thus the Evangelische Kirche or the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

2) used in reference to an Anglo-American movement resulting from the revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries. Evangelicals are found in almost every church tradition, though it is generally a conservative Protestant movement. Evangelicalism has been identified theologically with 4 points: a) Biblicism: a high doctrine of the infallibility and inspiration of Scripture; b) Conversionism: a focus on the new birth and the process of sanctification that follows from saving faith, commonly identified with the expression “born again”; c) Crucicentrism: a focus on the redeeming work of Christ, particularly the atonement; d) Activism: normally expressed in a concern for evangelism and social renewal.

evangelism
from the Greek “evangelion” referring to the Good News. Christian activity undertaken to spread the Gospel or “Good News.” Sometimes confused with proselytism.
ex cathedra
Latin for “from the chair”, used to refer to the authoritative pronouncements of the pope made “from the chair of Peter.” Such pronouncements are understood by Roman Catholics to carry the authority of the apostolic ministry of Peter as “first of the apostles.”
exegesis
Faith & Order
one of the three streams of the modern ecumenical movement, together with Life & Work, and Mission & Evangelism. Faith & Order is concerned with matters relating to doctrine and church order. The international expressions of these three streams have converged in the World Council of Churches. Within the WCC, Faith & Order concerns are the task of the Commission on Faith & Order. Outside of the WCC, Faith & Order is a focus of the bilateral dialogues at the international, national and local levels.
fellowship
gentile
a Greek term translating the Hebrew word “goyim”, literally meaning “the nations.” Used to refer to the non-Jew. In the Hebrew Bible the term refers to the Canaanites. In the New Testament the term refers to the Greeks.
Hebrew Bible
see Tanakh
Holiness churches
holy
an English term that translates the Greek “Hagios” or the Latin “Sanctus.”
Holy See
icon
icône
iconostase
L’iconostase est une caractéristique essentielle des églises orthodoxes et d’autres Églises orientales. Elle prend habituellement la forme d’une mur couvert d’icônes, situé entre l’autel et la partie principale de l’Église. L’iconostase symbolise l’union entre le ciel et la terre, ainsi que l’union entre Dieu et l’Humanité en Jésus-Christ. [COE]
iconostasis
The iconostasis is an essential feature of Orthodox churches and other Eastern churches. It is usually found in the form of a wall covered with icons, situated between the altar and the main part of the church building. The iconostasis symobolises the union between heaven and earth, as well as the union between God and humanity in Jesus Christ. [translated from WCC materials]
Immaculate Conception
The Roman Catholic dogma that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was herself conceived without original sin. Pronounced as a dogma in 1854. This is not to be confused with the Virgin Birth.
indulgences
inerrancy
infallibility
literally meaning to be incapable of error. Used in two contexts, both of which have led to disputes:
1) in reference to Scripture, infallibility refers to the belief that the Bible is without error in matters of theological fact.
2) in reference to the pope, infallibility refers to the doctrine pronounced by the First Vatican Council (1870) that the pope is without error when defining ex cathedra matters of faith and morals. Not all papal pronouncements are understood to be infallible. The Second Vatican Council clarified that the pope speaks infallibly within the college of bishops.
inspiration
JPIC
Justice, peace and the integrity of creation. A study process initiated by the WCC‘s Sixth Assembly at Vancouver, Canada in 1983. A World Convocation on JPIC was held at Seoul, Korea in 1990.
justification
koinonia
Greek term used in New Testament, translated as either communion or fellowship
Life & Work
liturgical seasons
the Western church year (liturgical year) is divided into the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. In some calendars, the Sundays following Epiphany and Pentecost are considered “ordinary time.” Each season has a distintive colour associated with it. Bright purple during Advent, a darker purple (eggplant) during Lent, green during “ordinary time,” red for Pentecost and memorial feasts, white for Christmas and Easter. Clergy wear stoles and chasubles decorated with the liturgical colours.
liturgy
Lord’s Supper
Lutheran
magisterium
metanoia
a Greek word meaning conversion, metanoia has the sense of a complete conversion of both heart and mind, a process rather than a change that occurs at a particular point in time.
Methodist
refers to the people and churches deriving from the 18th century evangelistic work of John and Charles Wesley. During their lifetimes, Methodism was a religious movement within the Church of England, and in the Episcopal churches in the thirteen American colonies. Associated with the Great Awakenings and the introduction of revivalism into Anglo-American churches, Methodism became a separate church soon after John Wesley’s death, and has since spread beyond the communities established by him. Wesleyan churches in a variety of forms owe their theological and spiritual foundation to early Methodism.
minister
noun: the minister; verb: to minister
mission
narthex
the foyer of a church, used for gathering before entering the worship space.
New Testament
a collection of 27 books of scripture written and collected by the early Christian community. The list of the 27 canonical books was first proposed by St. Athanasius of Alexandria in his Easter Epistle in 367 A.D. Unlike the Old Testament, the canon of the New Testament is recognized by all Christians without significant disagreements over the content.
Nicea, Council of
1. Nicea I: the first ecumenical council, held in 325 AD. Defined the dogmatic teaching that Jesus is divine, the Son of God. Established the date of Easter as the Sunday following the full moon that follows the spring equinox.2. Nicea II: the seventh ecumenical council held in 787 AD. Approved the veneration of sacred images (such as icons, statues) of Jesus and the saints. Rejected iconoclasm.
Nicene Creed
the creed formulated by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, and modified by the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD.
Old Testament
ordination
Oriental Orthodox
organic unity
original sin
orthodox
1. from the Greek ortho + doxa meaning “right teaching.” Used to refer to doctrines, or to people and communities that teach a recognised orthodox doctrine. The opposite of heterodoxy, or heresy.2. churches of the Eastern Church. Used to refer to the Eastern Orthodox churches that affirm the first seven ecumenical councils, and the Oriental Orthodox that rejected the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.
penance
Pentateuch
The five books traditionally attributed to Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Pentecostal
postmillenialism
an eschatological theory in which the church will bring about a Christian millenium, after which Christ will return as king (Second Coming). See also eschatology, premillenialism.
post-tribulationism
a form of dispensationalism similar to premillenialism that understands the return of Christ to occur at the end of the time of tribulation. Distinct from pretribulationism, post-tribulationism teaches that the church will remain in the world through the time of tribulation. Another view, mid-tribulationism, envisions a rapture of the church (i.e. the righteous) in the midst of the tribulation.
premillenialism
an eschatological theory in which the reign of Christ (i.e. the millenium described in Rev. 20) will be preceded by the Second Coming of Christ. See also eschatology, postmillenialism, amillenialism, dispensationalism, pretribulationism.
presbyter
Presbyterian
presbytery
pretribulationism
An essential aspect of dispensationalism. The understanding that there will be a “pretribulational rapture of the church,” in which the righteous are removed (or raptured) from the earth to meet Christ in the air. Following the tribulation Christ will return to the world with the raptured saints to establish his millenial kingdom. See also eschatology, dispensationalism.
priest
proselytism
an infringement upon the religious liberty of a person, proselytism is the attempt to convert (to make a proselyte of) a person through the use of psychological, emotional, spiritual or economic pressure or physical threats. Proselytism is an abberant form of evangelism.
Protestant Reformation
a period of reform and renewal in the early 16th century sparked by Martin Luther’s dispute over the doctrines of justification and indulgences. The reforms received considerable support in certain areas and led to division in the Western church. A Catholic-Reformation or Counter-Reformation was initiated by the Council of Trent and popularised by new religious orders such as the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
pulpit
reconciled diversity
reconciliation
rector
reform
Reformed churches
religious liberty
revelation
1) the knowledge of God revealed and received in Scripture. While all Christian traditions consider the canon of Scripture to be closed, some traditions believe personal and communal revelation of God is found in human experience.2) Revelation (the Apocalyse of John), the final book of the New Testament.
revival
ritual
sacrament
sacrament of healing
sacred
sanctification
sanctuary
1. in liturgical traditions that include an altar within the worship space, the sanctuary is an area around the altar, separated from the pews by the altar rail;2. in traditions that do not include an altar within the worship space, the sanctuary is the whole worship space within a church building. In some Protestant churches the communion table has become a permanent fixture. Unless this reflects a redesignation of the table as “altar” the whole worship space continues to be designated as the sanctuary;

3. an Old Testament notion of providing refuge for those fleeing persecution or punishment.

See
 the seat of the bishop, any diocese. The designation Holy See is normally used for Rome, although it also traditionally is used to honour the Diocese of Mainz in Germany.
soteriology
stole
a liturgical vestment worn only by clergy, the stole is a band of cloth hung over the shoulders and down the front. Stoles are generally decorated according to the liturgical seasons.
subsidiarity
the principle that matters should be decided as close to the local level as possible.
synod
Tanakh
Hebrew term used to refer to the Hebrew Bible. Formed from the Hebrew acronym for Torah, Nebi’im, Ketubi’im (Law, Prophets, Writings). The Tanakh contains essentially the same canon as the Old Testament, without the Apocrypha. The books are arranged in the traditional Hebrew order of Pentateuch, the prophets, and the remaining writings.
theology
classically defined as “fides quaerens intellectum”, faith seeking understanding, theology is an academic discipline that seeks to provide insight into the nature of God and the world from the perspective of faith. Known as the “queen of the sciences,” theology uses the rational disciplines of philosophy and the sciences to examine and reflect upon revelation and religious experience.
Torah
normally refers to the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Torah is a Hebrew term meaning “The Law.” The Torah together with the Nebi’im (Prophets) and Ketubi’im (Writings) make up the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible. These five books present the covenant made by God with the Hebrew people.
Trent, Council of
A Roman Catholic ecumenical council held from 1545 to 1563 at Trent. The Council inaugurated the Counter Reformation. The adjective “Tridentine” is used to refer to this Council.
Trinity
uniate
unity, models of
Vatican
Vatican Council, First
An ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church held in 1870. The council is known for doctrinal teachings on papal infallibility and revelation.
Vatican Council, Second
An ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church held in four sessions from 1962 to 1965.
veneration
relating to saints and sacred images (icons, statues), the Second Council of Nicea (787 AD) distinguished between veneration of images and worship of God. Veneration of an image is veneration of the person depicted, not of the material object. Images point towards God who alone is worthy of worship. Veneration of the image thus leads to worship of God.
vestry
An Anglican term used to refer to the parish church council. The vestry consists of lay members of the parish and the rector or dean. Members of vestry are selected according to the canon law of the particular diocese. The vestry generally consists of the people’s warden elected by the parish, the rector’s warden appointed by the rector, and various others elected or appointed for particular tasks.
viaticum
sometimes referred to as the Last Rites, viaticum is an archaic term for the Roman Catholic sacrament of healing.
Virgin Birth
the doctrine that Mary remains a virgin, conceiving and giving birth to Jesus without losing her virginity. Some church traditions insist that Mary remains a virgin throughout her life, although this is not essential to this doctrine.
warden
WCC
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 120 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Wesleyan
referring to a dependence upon the theological contributions of John and Charles Wesley. Wesleyan theology and spirituality emphasize conversion, the New Birth, and perfect sanctification.