Nearly every discipline has its own special language. There are many words and terms in religion that are commonly used but, perhaps, not fully understood. Today, I would like to use this column to help define some of these terms. You may already be familiar with them, and if so, good. You may want to play a game and test yourself as to how many you know.

Eucharist: The word actually means “thanksgiving” and refers to the sacrament of Holy Communion. Jews fleeing Egyptian bondage had a Passover feast that was celebrated by Jesus at his last supper with his disciples. The bread and wine of the eucharist is representative of — or becomes — depending on your denominational belief, the body and blood of Christ.

Catholic: May refer to the Roman Catholic Church. The term literally means “worldwide,” so many Protestants claim to be a part of the catholic church of Jesus Christ.

Deism: The belief in a God who is the creator but not governor of the universe. He created and established certain natural laws by which the universe would operate, but he does not intervene in the historical process or in the lives of humans. This is comfortable for people who are very scientific-minded, but it destroys the idea of petitionary prayer.

Fundamentalism: This is a theological position which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It affirms the virgin birth of Jesus, his sacrificial atonement, his bodily resurrection, his second coming and most important, the inerrancy of Scripture.

Anti-nomianism: Nomos means “law.” Anti-nomianism is an heretical idea that says that since we are saved by faith alone, there is no need to obey God’s law.

Eschatology: Eschaton means “the end,” So, eschatology is the study of the end times.

Teleology: Telos denotes purpose. Teleology is the study of the end purpose of all things.

Sacrament: The word is derived from the Greek word for mystery. A sacrament, therefore, is a divine mystery by which God grants his grace to those who participate. Roman Catholicism counts seven sacraments; Luther reduced it to two for Protestants.

Vulgate: An early translation of the Bible into Latin by Jerome, probably about A.D. 404.

Rapture: The belief that both believers alive and dead will be caught up to meet Christ in the air. Some people believe this will occur before a period of tribulation and others after the tribulation. It necessarily supposes a flat Earth and heaven as “up.”

Anathema: Means to be cursed.

Parousia: Refers to the presence or second coming of Christ.

Theism: The belief in a God who is both creator and governor, and who is active in history and human life.

Agnosticism: Gnosis means knowledge. In Greek, it becomes negative if preceded by an A. Agnosticism means a lack of knowledge. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God.

Atheism: If theism is belief in God, add the A and atheism is the denial of God’s existence.

If you can think of words that should be added —there are many — please let me know.

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Earl Crow taught religion and philosophy at High Point University. He has pastored churches and still performs weddings, preaches and offers seminars. He majored in religion at Duke University and attended the Duke Divinity School and has studied at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and received his doctorate from the University of Manchester, England. His column is published Saturdays in the Journal. If you have questions about religion or faith, email Earl Crow at

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