Dictionary of Commonly Used Terms
Presbyterian Church (USA) – The largest and most progressive of several Presbyterian denominations to be found in America.
Denomination – A group of religious communities acknowledging a common bond, theology, tradition, and some level of organizational unity.
Congregation – A local unit of a religious body, for example: Community Presbyterian Church.
Presbyterian – Literally means, “ruled by presbyters” (elders).
Reformed – All those denominations and churches whose theology is primarily influenced by the works, writings, and Biblical interpretations of early Protestant reformer John Calvin, as differing from the Lutherans, Anglicans, etc.
Calvinism – A belief system emphasizing, among other doctrines, the Sovereignty of God in the process of salvation and the social and citizenship responsibilities of believers and the church.
John Calvin – A sixteenth century French/Swiss reformer whose ideas and doctrines about the church, the Bible, etc. most heavily influenced ‘Reformed’ religious thought.
John Knox – Student of John Calvin and founder of the Church of Scotland, where Presbyterian churches originated.
Form of Government
Session – The governing body of elders who oversee the spiritual, programmatic, and general life of a congregation.
Congregational Meeting – Where church budgets and the terms of the minister’s ‘call’ (employment, salary and benefits), are approved.
Presbytery – The next ‘level’ of the Presbyterian Church USA above the Session where a larger grouping of churches, (there are 65 in our St. Augustine Presbytery), plans and oversees the ‘larger’ workings of the church, including new church development, training and camping programs in an area, and assists local churches in matters of discipline, disputes, ministerial qualifications….
Synod – A larger geographical region seeing to the common needs of a much larger grouping of churches, (Synod of the South Atlantic, for example).
General Assembly – The national governing body of the Presbyterian Church USA.
Elders (Presbyters) – The elected and ordained members who comprise the Session.
Deacons – The ordained body which organizes and participates in nurturing members, calling on the sick, seeing to the needs of the grieving, etc.
Trustees – Legal representatives of the congregation who sign legal documents, invest funds, and borrow money.
Ministers of Word and Sacrament – Ordained by the denomination to serve as preachers, teachers, pastors, evangelists, moderators of sessions, and spiritual leaders of the church.
Church – May refer to a congregation, i.e. ‘Community Presbyterian Church’, a worship service, i.e. “I’m going to church this Sunday”, a denomination, or the whole body of believers in Jesus Christ.
Sanctuary – a consecrated or sacred place, a place of worship. One might well worship in the Fellowship Hall, or at a church campground, but the word generally denotes the formal ‘worship space’ of a congregation.
Nave – That part of a church appropriated to the laity as distinguished from the chancel or the choir loft. (In most churches, it is where the pews are).
Chancel – The part of a church around the communion table, reserved for the use of the clergy and, sometimes, the choir.
Narthex – The entrance or lobby area, located at the end of the nave. Traditionally the narthex was a part of the church building, but was not considered part of the church proper.
Pulpit – In many Presbyterian Churches, there are two speakers’ stands at the front of the church. Typically, the one on the left (as viewed by the congregation) is called the pulpit. From here, the sermon is preached and, often, the Gospel is read.
Lectern – The other speaker’s stand, usually on the right (as viewed by the congregation), is known as the lectern. Because the lectern primarily functions as a reading stan, it is typically used by worship leaders to lead the congregation in worship, prayer, and to make announcements.
Altar – An altar is any structure upon which sacrifices or other offerings are offered for religious purposes. (Presbyterians do not use the term).
Communion Table – The table used in the celebration of communion, or The Lord’s Supper; (sometimes referred to as ‘The Lord’s Table).
Creed – A formal statement of religious belief; i.e. ‘the Apostle’s Creed Confession – 1. an admission of one’s faults, sins, or crimes; – 2. confession of faith – a formal public statement of religious beliefs. i.e. The Westminster confession of faith.
Confession – 1. an admission of one’s faults, sins, or crimes. 2. confession of faith – a formal public statement of religious beliefs. i.e. The Westminster confession of faith.
Catechism – a brief summary of the basic principles of Christianity in question-and-answer form.
Book of Confessions – The book of doctrinal statements of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that is designated “Part 1” of the PCUSA Constitution, “Part 2” being the Book of Order. It consists of several statements of the Christian faith. None of them are required to be subscribed to point-by-point, and the newer confessions are said to take precedence over the older ones in points of conflict. Taken together they as a body represent the official belief of the church.
• Nicene Creed (325/381 AD)
• Apostles’ Creed (second to sixth century)
• Scots Confession (1560)
• Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
• Second Helvetic Confession (1566)
• Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)
• Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647)
• Westminster Larger Catechism (1647)
• Theological Declaration of Barmen (1935)
• Confession of 1967 (1967)
• A Brief Statement of Faith (1991)
Book of Order – The second part of The Constitution of the PC(USA). It guides congregations in understanding how to apply the Reformed Faith to individual congregations. It consists of a description of the Forms of Government, Directory for Worship, and Rules of Discipline.
Call to Worship – The words of invitation with which a worship service begins
Invocation – A prayer used near the beginning of a religious service to call upon the attention of God.
Prayer of Confession – a common prayer in which the congregation a acknowledges their sins and short comings and asks for grace and forgiveness
Lord’s Prayer – The prayer Jesus used as an example to his disciples often repeated in unison during worship.
Pastoral Prayer – The prayer offered by the minister in the course of a service of worship for and on behalf of the congregation.
Tithe – Traditionally a tithe represents 10% of the net income of the giver.
Offering – A contribution to the church or its work that may represent either ones regular giving amount or some over and above donation.
Building Fund – Money designated toward meeting the capital or facility needs of the church.
Passing of the Peace – A responsive formula taking place at the end of the service and usually involving the touching or joining of hands.
Benediction – The final blessing at the end of the service.
Ordination – The ceremony in which Deacons, elders, and Ministers of Word and Sacrament are consecrated to their calling by other ordained individuals.
Lectionary – A selected list of Scripture passages for daily readings, devotions or to be used as a preaching resource throughout the Christian year.
Inquirers Class – A series of orientation meetings to familiarize prospective members with the church and its’ faith.
Confirmation – The ceremony in which those on whose behalf Baptismal vows were made confirm their own volitional commitment to the faith.
Committees – Groups within the church that carry out the various programmatic functions. i.e. Christian Education, Mission and Outreach. Property, Fellowship, Personnel, Worship, and Evangelism.
Barnabas Ministry – A group of people trained and enabled to provide Special spiritual solace to designated ill, shut-in or infirm among the churches membership.
Sacraments – A sacred act or ceremony of the Christian faith, believed to be instituted by Christ and conferring or celebrating a specific grace on those who receive it; the two Protestant Sacraments are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Sacraments are known as visible signs of invisible grace.
Baptism – A sacrament of the church establishing an individual’s covenantal relationship within the Christian Community. As an identifying mark, Baptism signifies the faithfulness of God, the washing away of sin, rebirth, putting on the fresh garment of Christ, being sealed by God’s Spirit, adoption into the covenant family of the Church, and the resurrection and illumination in Christ.
Lord’s Supper/Communion – The sacramental rite by which we re-enact and remember the ‘breaking of Christ’s body’ and ‘the blood He spilled for our sakes’.
Seasons and Celebrations
Advent – The liturgical period preceding Christmas, beginning, (in Western churches), on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.
Epiphany – January 6. A Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi or Wise Men.
Lent – The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday until Easter observed by many Christians as a season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter.
Palm Sunday – The Sunday before Easter, observed by Christians in commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when palm fronds were strewn before him.
Maundy Thursday – The Thursday before Easter, observed in commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus.
Good Friday – The Friday before Easter, observed by Christians in commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus.
Easter – Easter marks the Resurrection of Jesus three days after his Crucifixion. It is the most important and most joyous holiday on the Christian calendar.
Pentecost – The seventh Sunday after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Sometimes called, “The Birthday of the church”.
Theological Terms / Doctrines
Covenant – an agreement between God and his people in which God makes certain promises and, in return, requires certain behavior from them in return.
Predestination – The doctrine that stresses the initiative of God in calling us to saving faith in Christ.
Atonement – The reconciliation of God and humans brought about by the redemptive life and death of Jesus.
Salvation – Deliverance from the power or penalty of sin; redemption.
Sanctification – to make free from sin; purify. Presbyterians believe that this process takes place during the faith journey of a Christian’s life and that Christ finishes this work on our behalf as we inherit eternal life.