When choosing terms to describe a person’s stance on abortion, journalists should remember that abortion is a nuanced issue, with many people supporting or opposing abortion in some, but not all, circumstances. Take care to describe a person’s view rather than relying on terms popularized in the heated public debate. For example, journalists should use pro-abortion rights or a similar description instead of pro-choice, and opposed to abortion or against abortion rights instead of pro-life. The AP Stylebook advises using anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. See pro-choice and pro-life.
Category Archives: Protestantism
In Western Christianity, it is the season before Christmas and opens the liturgical year of the Latin church; Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day (the Sunday nearest Nov. 30) and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24). In Eastern Catholic churches, Advent begins Nov. 14, the feast of St. Philip the Apostle. Advent anticipates Jesus Christ’s birth as well as his Second Coming. The Eastern Orthodox Church does not observe Advent. Instead there is a period of fasting 40 days before Christmas.
The African Methodist Episcopal denomination was formed by a merger of black Methodist churches as a protest against slavery. AME Church is acceptable on second reference.
The AME Zion Church traces its roots to the late 18th century, when free black Methodist preachers formed a church. In 1821, the church split from the Methodist Episcopal Church and the national organization was born. In 1848, Zion was added to the name to honor the first church in New York and to distinguish it from another black splinter Methodist church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church or AME. AME Zion Church is acceptable on second reference.
An association of Baptist churches that is considered to be part of the mainline Protestant tradition. American Baptist Churches is acceptable on second reference.
A profession of Christian faith that is accepted in the Roman Catholic Church as an official creed and has similar standing in many Protestant churches. Various sources trace its origins and evolution from between the first and seventh centuries. The core of the Apostles’ Creed is believed to pre-date the Nicene Creed, a slightly longer formula that was elaborated by church fathers at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The Nicene Creed is usually recited collectively at Catholic Masses.
Historically, the term refers to the whole Christian church in the era of the Twelve Apostles or to any of the ancient local churches founded by one of the Apostles. In theology, the term means a church faithful to the beliefs of the original Apostles and/or linked to them through historical continuity. A number of denominations use this as part of their title, but they are often quite different from one another. Be certain which “apostolic” church you are dealing with. Lowercase unless part of an official title.
The idea in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopal and some Lutheran churches that their bishops are direct spiritual descendants of Jesus’ Apostles, often due to a chain of laying-on-of-hands that can be traced back to Jesus.
The largest administrative unit of some churches with an episcopal government. It is generally overseen by an archbishop. Capitalize as part of a proper name. Lowercase when it stands alone.
This is the site of the final cosmic battle between good and evil, generally referring to the prophecy in the Book of Revelation. The term can refer to an actual battlefield, which some place at Megiddo in what is now Israel. Others use it in a metaphoric sense, or to denote any cataclysmic clash.
In the Western Christian church, the seventh Wednesday before Easter marks the beginning of the Lenten season. The name is taken from a practice of putting ashes on the foreheads of penitent believers as a reminder of their physical return to dust (“ashes to ashes”). The practice is common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians, and many Lutherans. It is also becoming more popular among other Protestant churches.
Capitalize when referring to the Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament. The Bible is a collection of writings compiled through centuries and authorized by various church councils, rather than a single book. The Old Testament is a Christian designation for the Hebrew Bible. The term Hebrew Bible should be used in articles dealing solely with Judaism. Lowercase biblical in all uses and bible as a nonreligious term. When citing biblical verses, use AP style for numbering chapter and verse, as in Luke 21: 1-13.
- In Protestant Bibles, Old Testament books, in order, are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
- Hebrew Bibles contain the same books but in different order.
- Roman Catholic Bibles follow a different order, use some different names and contain seven additional, or deuterocanonical, Old Testament books (called the Apocrypha by Protestants): Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch.
- The books of the New Testament, in order, are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation (in Catholicism, the traditional name for this last book is Apocalypse, but the Catholic News Service advises using Revelation except in direct quotations). See Apocrypha.
A term used by some Christians to describe their emphasis on the authority and primacy of Scripture, as in Bible-believing Christians. By definition, however, all Christians believe the Bible. Thus, journalists should avoid using this term except when it is clear people are using it to describe themselves.
In Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches and some Protestant denominations that have an episcopal or hierarchical form of government, bishop is the highest order of ordained ministry. The distinction between a Catholic bishop and an archbishop is an honorary one, and an archbishop has no authority over a neighboring diocese. Some groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Amish and some Pentecostals, use the title bishop for someone who is the pastor of a congregation. Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name. On second reference, use only the cleric’s last name. Lowercase bishop in other uses.
Theologically, all Christians claim to be born-again through the saving work of Jesus Christ; they just disagree over how it occurs. Catholics and Orthodox, for instance, say it occurs in the sacrament of baptism, which frequently takes place when the baptized person is too young to recall it. Evangelical Protestants emphasize being born-again as a personal, transformational experience that involves a deliberate commitment to follow Christ. Because the term tends to associate someone with a particular religious tradition, do not label someone a born-again Christian. Rather let the person label themselves, as in, who calls herself a born-again Christian.
According to the New Testament, the hill outside of Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified. The location is also known as Golgotha, or the place of the skull. A common error is misspelling Calvary as cavalry.
A French lawyer who once studied for the priesthood, he settled in Geneva in 1536 and was a major force in the Protestant Reformation. Calvin wrote Institutes of the Christian Religion, which spells out his key doctrines.
The theological doctrine of 16th-century French Protestant reformer John Calvin. It is most often associated with predestination, the belief that each individual’s eternal fate — salvation or damnation — is predetermined, but many contemporary Calvinists have backed away from that. Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty and holiness of God, the pervasiveness of sin, the powerful grace of Christ and the authority of Scripture. The Presbyterian Church (USA) and Congregationalist churches trace their roots to Calvinism.
The word means anointed one or messiah in Greek. For that reason, Christians refer to Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Christ or simply Christ.
The words in parentheses are part of the formal name. The church’s central belief is that the Bible should be the only basis for faith and conduct and that each person can interpret the Bible for himself. All clergy in the denomination may be referred to as ministers. Pastor applies if a minister leads a congregation. On first reference, use the Rev. before a cleric’s name. On second reference, use only the last name.
Western Christians celebrate Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, on Dec. 25. Most Orthodox Christians, using the Julian calendar, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7. Armenian Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, except in Jerusalem, where it is celebrated on Jan. 19. Never abbreviate Christmas to Xmas or any other form.
Has multiple meanings. It can mean a building, a gathering of people, a civilly incorporated body, the sum total of all Christians on the planet, or an idea in the mind of God. When reading formal documents of the Catholic Church, it is especially important to figure out which one of these definitions is operative. Capitalize as part of the formal name of a building. Lowercase in phrases where the church is used in an institutional sense, as in separation of church and state.
A term that refers to the process of starting a new church. It is most commonly used in Protestant traditions.
There is no central headquarters or organization for the Churches of Christ, as each congregation is autonomous. Members have traditionally regarded their churches as a restoration of the New Testament church. They typically do not use instrumental music in worship because, they say, the New Testament does not command it, and whatever is not commanded is forbidden. Baptism by immersion is generally regarded as essential for salvation. The minister of a congregation is addressed by members as Brother. Do not use the honorific the Rev. for Church of Christ ministers. Do not refer to the space for worship as a sanctuary; auditorium is usually preferred. Do not refer to the Communion table as an altar; use Communion table.
A phrase made famous in 1630 by future Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop, who told Puritans sailing from England that the colonies would serve as a model, a “city upon a hill.” The phrase has come to encapsulate the idea, cited by politicians from John Adams to John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, that America has special blessing from God as well as a special responsibility.
Most frequently refers to the commemoration of the meal that, according to the New Testament, was instituted by Jesus on the night before the Crucifixion. Other terms include Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper and Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is commonly used by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians and High-Church Anglicans, though some Protestants use it as well.
Belief and practice vary widely. Catholics and Orthodox Christians uniformly see the Eucharist as the central rite of Christian worship, and it is celebrated at least in every Sunday service. Some Protestants also celebrate at least weekly; others do so every other week, monthly, quarterly or less frequently. Catholics and the Orthodox, as well as some Anglicans, believe that the consecrated bread and wine themselves become the body and blood of Christ. They speak of Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist. Catholics and other Western Christians refer to this teaching as transubstantiation. Most Orthodox do not use the term because they believe it reflects Western ways of thinking that are foreign to Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, even some Protestants who do not believe in transubstantiation nonetheless speak of Christ’s “real presence.” Many others see the Lord’s Supper as a simple memorial meal in which bread and wine (or grape juice) remain unchanged and are no more than symbols. Do not use the word symbol to refer to the bread or wine unless you are sure that the church you are writing about considers Communion a purely symbolic act. When in doubt, use Communion, a term that has currency in just about every Christian tradition. Mass is the usual Roman Catholic term for a Eucharistic service. Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox typically speak of the Divine Liturgy. Some Protestant churches do not use the term sacrament and may rather refer to the Lord’s Supper (as well as baptism) as an ordinance.
Communion also can refer to a grouping of churches that share the same beliefs and practices, as in the Anglican Communion. For this usage, capitalize on first reference as part of the full name, but lowercase the word when used alone on subsequent references.
Lowercase the phrase communion of saints.
An integral part of historic Christian practice. Confession can mean either to admit one’s sins or to profess the Christian faith. In the Roman Catholic Church, individual confession is part of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, in which a baptized person admits his or her sins to a priest, who can then absolve the person in the name of Christ through the power conferred through ordination. Absolution is granted if a penitent displays genuine remorse and a commitment not to repeat the sin. A penitential act may be attached to the absolution, such as an exhortation to pray or do good works. Anglicans confess their sins communally in church, and a private rite is available to them. In Eastern Orthodoxy, individuals confess their sin to God before an icon and a priest; however, the priest does not act as an intermediary to God. A confession also refers to a statement of faith, such as the Westminster Confession. In Nazi Germany, the Confessing Church was an underground church that resisted Adolf Hitler, and its name has been taken by a wide variety of Protestant groups since then, often when they are in opposition to their own denomination’s policies.
A reaffirming of faith in Christ. It is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church, typically conferred in the early teens, although it may be received as young as 7. Eastern Catholics confer it with infant baptism. Other churches, particularly those that practice infant baptism, consider it a formal rite of passage that includes education in the faith. Some Protestant churches, particularly those that require believer’s baptism, do not practice confirmation.
Congregationalist churches are autonomous Protestant congregations that trace their roots to 16th-century England. The Puritans were Congregationalists. In modern America, the United Church of Christ denomination is the most prominent example of the Congregationalist tradition (though not all of its churches call themselves Congregationalist). A more general term, congregationalism, refers to a form of church governance practiced by many Baptists and others. When used this way, the term is lowercase.
The doctrine that Jesus becomes spiritually present in the bread and wine when it is blessed by an ordained minister during Communion. It is followed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and other denominations. Consubstantiation contrasts with transubstantiation, practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that the bread and wine miraculously become the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist. Other churches believe the bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood. See Communion, transubstantiation.
In the United States, creationism usually refers to the belief that the Bible’s account of creation is literally true and accurate. That generally means Genesis 1-2:4a, where God creates the Earth and all its life forms in six consecutive 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago. (Genesis also tells a second creation story, in 2:4b-24, in which man is created before the Earth’s vegetation, and specific days are not described.) See intelligent design.
A statement of religious belief or faith that encapsulates official teaching. Most have developed over time amid religious and political debates. The word creed is based on the Latin word credo, which means I believe. The most common creeds in Christianity are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
A universal sign of Christianity associated with Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion by the Romans. Making the sign of the cross with the hands is a ritual of Christian devotion for Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans and some Methodists and Presbyterians. A cross is different from a crucifix, which has an image of the crucified Jesus.
The major Christian holy day. It marks Jesus Christ’s Resurrection from the dead three days after his Crucifixion. Western Christian churches and Orthodox Christian churches usually celebrate Easter on different dates, sometimes as much as five weeks apart. Both observe Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox. However, the Western church uses the Gregorian calendar and the Orthodox church and many Eastern Catholic churches use the Julian calendar. They also use different definitions of a full moon and an equinox. The two Easters are observed on the same day about a quarter of the time. Orthodox Christians refer to Easter as Pascha, derived from the Hebrew word for Passover.
A modern theological and social term referring to the effort to promote understanding and cooperation among diverse Christian groups. The adjective, ecumenical, refers to interaction between Christians of different traditions. It is also linked to a 20th-century religious movement to bring a variety of denominations under a single Christian umbrella, such as the World Council of Churches.
A late 20th-century movement within evangelical Christianity that emphasizes youth, small communities, a drive to make Christianity relevant in a postmodern world, frustration with traditional church structures, social justice, and embrace of culture. Congregations are highly decentralized, with many preferring not to be called churches. Some refer to the emergent church as a conversation instead of a movement. Emergent Christians, who are predominantly evangelical and mainline Protestants, are found primarily in North America and Western Europe. See postmodern.
Lowercase. Generally refers to the time of tribulation preceding the Second Coming of Jesus, though it has parallels and roots in all three Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Sometimes also called the “End of Days.”
A form of church government in which bishops have some kind of authority over clergy and/or congregations. Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist and some Lutheran churches are all episcopal in this sense
Pronounced “es-kuh-TAH-lah-gee.” The theological study of end times, when the fate of individual souls and all of creation will be decided. It is often associated with doomsday predictions, but Christian eschatology also focuses on eternity, paradise, resurrection of the dead and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation and the prophecy of Daniel are considered eschatological or apocalyptic.
A term commonly used by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians and High-Church Anglicans for Communion, but some Protestants use it as well. In the Holy Eucharist, the Lord Christ is contained, offered, and received in the form or presentation of bread and wine. See Communion.
By definition, all Christians are evangelicals. The word evangelical is derived from the Greek evangelion, which means “good news” or “gospel.” But the term evangelical has generally come to mean Protestants who emphasize personal conversion; evangelism; the authority, primacy — and, usually — inerrancy of the Bible; and the belief that Jesus’ death reconciled God and humans. Evangelicals tend to be conservative theologically, but the terms evangelical and conservative Christian are not synonymous, though they both may apply to the same people. Fundamentalists, who generally separate themselves from what they see as a sinful culture, are distinct from evangelicals, who tend to embrace culture and use it to build up the church. In the early 21st century, religious identification surveys show that between a quarter and 40 percent of the U.S. population claims the evangelical label. Many, though not all, also identify with a specific tradition or denomination, ranging from mainline Protestant denominations to the Roman Catholic Church. In Europe, evangelical is a generic word for Protestants. Uppercase only when part of a formal name.
The largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. ELCA is acceptable on second reference. Do not confuse it with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is smaller and more conservative. See Lutheran.
The act of conveying the gospel message of Jesus Christ. The word evangelism is derived from the Greek evangelion, which means “gospel” or “good news.” Styles of evangelism vary from direct appeals at large public meetings to practical deeds done in the name of Christ.
A Christian whose particular mission is to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ through preaching and teaching. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the purported authors of the Gospels of the New Testament — are called the four Evangelists. Capitalize when referring to them, but lowercase in all other references.
Important teachers and theologians from the first few centuries of Christianity whose writings came too late to be included in the canon of the New Testament.
A Christian religious movement that began in the U.S. in the late 19th century and early 20th century to counter liberalism and secularism. It emphasized the inerrancy of the Bible. In recent years, fundamentalist and fundamentalism have become associated with any religious reactionary movement, such as Islamic fundamentalism. The words also have been used as pejoratives. Journalists often, and erroneously, label all conservative Christians, including conservative evangelicals, as fundamentalists. It is best to avoid the words unless a group applies the terms to itself.
Term used to describe men who are sexually attracted to other men. For women, lesbian is the preferred term. When referring to both, say gay men and lesbians, though gay is acceptable for referring to both in headlines. Avoid references to a gay, homosexual or alternative “lifestyle.”
Pronounced “glos-uh-LAY-lee-uh.” A form of speaking in tongues. Mentioned as a practice in the New Testament, and a hallmark of contemporary Pentecostal and some charismatic Christians. It is most commonly viewed as a private, heavenly language given by the Holy Spirit to communicate with God. Xenoglossia, also called zenolalia, is another form of speaking in tongues; it involves uttering a foreign language previously unknown to the speaker. Some conservative Protestant groups believe that the gift of tongues ceased after the first century and that current practices are a spiritual counterfeit.
It has become a blanket term for various, mostly mystical religions and sects. Comes from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. Also refers to pre- and early-Christian teachings that there is a higher understanding that can be possessed by only a few. Generally, Gnostics believed that all matter was evil, but that humans carried a divine spark that fell from the Source from which all things came. Through esoteric or secret knowledge, the divine spark could be reunited with the Source. There is debate among biblical scholars about how much influence Gnosticism had on the New Testament. In 1945, a cache of fourth-century Gnostic texts was discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt.
Capitalize in reference to all monotheistic religions. Also capitalize such references as God the Father, Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit. However, lowercase personal pronouns, such as him and he. Many Christians consider God to be beyond gender, so be sensitive to the context of the story and avoid gender-defining pronouns when appropriate. Orthodox Jews write G-d to avert the sin of erasing or defacing God’s name. Journalists should respect these Jews’ practice by using G-d in quotes of written material, but otherwise should refer to God.
The word derives from the Old English word Godspell, or “good news.” It is a translation of the Greek word evangelion. This refers to the “good news” that Jesus Christ came as the Messiah, was crucified for the sins of humanity, died and then rose from the grave to triumph over death. Of the many gospels written in antiquity, four came to be accepted as part of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Capitalize when referring to each or all of the first four books of the New Testament. Lowercase in all other references.
Generically it means “free gift.” In Christianity, grace is the unmerited love and favor of God toward mankind, but different traditions sometimes use the word differently, which can lead to confusion. Evangelicals tend to equate grace with salvation. Catholics often use the plural, graces, to refer to any gift that they believe God has endowed the church with — including saints, bishops, the pope and the sacrament of penance. Thus, when Catholics say that other Christian traditions are lacking in grace, they do not mean that they are outside salvation. Grace also refers to a prayer of thanks before a meal.
A period of sweeping religious fervor, revival and renewal that has occurred three times in U.S. history, leading to social and political as well as religious change. The first Great Awakening occurred with religious revivals in the American colonies in the early 1700s. The second is generally defined as occurring in the early- to mid-1800s, and the third at the turn of the 20th century.
Jesus’ instruction to his disciples (as told in Matthew 28:16-20) to “go and make disciples of all nations.” This exhortation has provided the motivation and justification for Christianity’s missionary activities around the world from the time of the early church.
Takes place in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain on Oct. 31, the day before All Saints Day. The day traces its roots to pagan celebrations, predominantly among the Celts in the British Isles. In recent years, some U.S. Christians have opposed Halloween celebrations and created alternative celebrations, claiming the day is satanic.
The third entity of the Christian Trinity of God, Son and Holy Spirit. Christians believe the Holy Spirit leads people to belief in Jesus and dwells in each Christian. The Holy Spirit is depicted in Christian art as an ascending dove bathed in light or as a flame. Once called the Holy Ghost, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the term Holy Spirit came into use. It is now the preferred term.
The day before Good Friday, when Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples, washed their feet and instituted Holy Communion. In the Catholic Church, Lent ends whenever the Holy Thursday service begins in any given parish. Also called Maundy Thursday.
In Christianity, the week that begins with Palm Sunday and concludes with Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and Easter commemorates his rising from the dead. Also includes Holy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper (Jesus’ final meal with his disciples), and Good Friday, the day of Christ’s Crucifixion. The Roman Catholic Church has redesignated the period as Passion Week, but Holy Week is still the generally used and preferred term.
A small group of Christians who gather in a home for worship and fellowship, eschewing traditional church. They strive to reproduce the practice of the earliest churches formed after Jesus died. Also called home churches.
A term applied to an interpretation of the Bible that holds that every word is accurate, error-free and literally true.
The belief that some aspects of life forms are so complex that they must reflect the design of a conscious, rational intelligence. Proponents do not identify the designer, but most people involved in the debate assume that intelligent design refers to God. Many supporters of intelligent design reject the theory of evolution and support the idea of creationism. Most intelligent design supporters do not believe that life forms share a common ancestor, although some do.
A congregation or organization that is formally approved or under the jurisdiction of more than one denomination. It is not a synonym for nondenominational.
The civil rights leader and Baptist minister was born on Jan. 15, 1929, and assassinated on April 4, 1968. A federal holiday honoring him takes place on the third Monday in January. Refer to him as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on first reference.
The name of a popular African-American festival held between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1. Uppercase in all references. The name is a Swahili term meaning first. Begun in 1966, Kwanzaa celebrates African-American heritage. It has become increasingly associated with religion as more churches observe it. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
A traditional Mexican festival in which Joseph and Mary’s search for an inn is re-enacted on the evenings from Dec. 16 to 24. It generally moves from home to home in neighborhoods, but as the Hispanic population in the U.S. grows, it is increasingly staged as a community celebration that is both social and religious.
In Christianity, the Last Supper was the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his death. The meal is discussed in all four Gospels of the New Testament. Christians believe it took place on a Thursday night, Holy Thursday, before Jesus was crucified on Friday, observed as Good Friday. See Communion.
The period of penance and fasting preceding Easter, the Christian celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection. Lenten observances are most common in the liturgical traditions, such as Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism.
The observance of Lent developed through the centuries and sometimes varied in its focus and length. Especially for Western Christians, the currently accepted Lenten period recalls Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert and the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the desert between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land. Lent was originally to prepare those being initiated into the church at Easter and was then broadened to include various days of fasting and penance by all believers.
In most of the Catholic Church, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. Sundays are not counted as days of Lent. Some, still using the old liturgical calendar, count from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Since 1969, when the document known as the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar was released, the Roman Catholic Church has said that Lent ends at the beginning of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. During Lent, able-bodied Catholics over 14 and under 65 are called on to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (that is, to go without a main meal during the day) and to abstain from meat on Fridays. Fish is often substituted.
The observance of Lent within Protestantism varies from denomination to denomination, church to church, believer to believer. In recent years, even some nonliturgical Protestants, on their own or through their churches, have taken to observing the Lenten season through fasting and penance.
Has two sets of meanings, one for Western Christians and the other for Eastern Christians. Among Roman Catholics and Protestants, lowercase liturgy means a standard set of prayers and practices for public worship. It can also be used as a synonym for the service of worship in churches that use such forms – most commonly the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran. With reference to Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, uppercase Liturgy; avoid the lowercase use of the word with their churches. Churches that tend to vary their services each week, such as most Baptist, Pentecostal and independent churches, are often called nonliturgical.
Always capitalize when referring to God in a monotheistic faith, as in Lord Jesus or in Lord Krishna.
The New Testament describes Jesus teaching his followers this prayer, the most commonly recited in Christianity. It is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.
A member of a Protestant denomination that traces its roots to Martin Luther, the 16th-century Roman Catholic priest whose objections to certain practices in the Catholic Church began the Reformation. The two major Lutheran bodies in the U.S. are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA on second reference) and the smaller Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (Missouri Synod on second reference). Missouri Synod churches are far more theologically conservative than ELCA churches. There are smaller Lutheran bodies as well. In Lutheran practice, the congregation is the basic unit of government and is usually administered by a council made up of clergy and elected lay people. The council is headed either by the senior pastor or a lay person elected from the council. Some Lutheran branches, including the ELCA, have bishops. Members of the clergy are known as ministers. Pastor applies if a minister leads a congregation. On first reference, use the Rev. and the cleric’s full name. On second reference use only the cleric’s last name.
One of the two main Lutheran denominations in the U.S. Do not confuse it with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is larger and more liberal.
A designation for a group of moderate-to-liberal Protestant churches. The most prominent are the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
According to the New Testament, Mary was a virgin when she miraculously conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. She then married Joseph. Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that she remained a perpetual virgin and that biblical references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters mean either Joseph’s children by an earlier marriage or cousins. Most Protestants believe that Mary and Joseph had children. Mary was present at Jesus’ Crucifixion and was among the disciples gathered when the New Testament says they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. According to one tradition, she went to live with the Apostle John in Ephesus, Greece (in modern-day Turkey), after Jesus’ Crucifixion. Other traditions hold that she lived out her days near Jerusalem. Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant Christians give her the title Mother of God. Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that her prayers for them are especially powerful because she has such a close relationship to Jesus.
Catholics alone believe that Mary’s parents conceived her without transmitting original sin to her – a dogma known as the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is often confused with the Virgin Birth, which refers to the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary. Catholics refer to her as the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Both Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that she was drawn up bodily into heaven at the end of her life. The Orthodox call this the Dormition of the Theotokos (Theotokos [theh-oh-TOH-kohs] is the usual Orthodox term for Mother of God) and believe that it happened after she died. Catholics call it the Assumption and have never officially resolved whether she died.
Mary is also revered by Muslims, and there is a chapter in the Quran named after her. Veneration is the term that characterizes Catholic devotion to Mary and other saints; only God is worshipped. Marian veneration, along with the entire tradition of devotion to saints, was historically one of the principal divides between Catholics and most Protestants, although many Protestants are rethinking their traditional views of the mother of Jesus.
Generally defined as a Christian church that has a weekly sustained attendance of 2,000 or more. Although megachurches existed in some form in the United States throughout the 20th century, in recent decades they have flourished. Megachurches are often Protestant, evangelical, Catholic or Pentecostal, and many are theologically conservative. Many are nondenominational or Southern Baptist.
A Hebrew term meaning “the anointed one.” For Christians, the one and only Messiah is Jesus Christ. Jews await the coming of the Messiah. Capitalize in religious uses and lowercase in secular cases.
Started in England in the 18th century by a group of men that included John Wesley and his younger brother, Charles, as a movement within the Church of England. It focused on Bible study and a methodical approach to Scriptures and Christian living. The term Methodist thus originated as a pejorative nickname. The Anglican Church’s refusal to grant the sacraments to John Wesley’s followers facilitated Methodism’s eventual split from the Church of England.
The principal Methodist body in the United States is the United Methodist Church, formed in 1968 by the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. There are three major black Methodist denominations in the U.S.: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. For all Methodists, use the Rev. before a minister’s name on first reference, or use Bishop before the name if the person holds that title. Use only the last name on second reference.
Refers to a 1,000-year period of messianic peace on Earth. Thus, a phenomenon can be millennial without occurring at a millennium (chronological marker), and vice versa. The turn of a millennium or a century has, historically, intensified manifestations of religious expectation and social enthusiasm.
Most Protestant denominations use the term minister to describe their clergy, but it is not a formal title and is not capitalized. It is also used in Catholicism, with a strong distinction drawn between ordained ministers (priests and deacons) and lay ministers (including, for example, Eucharistic ministers, who take Communion to the sick, and youth ministers). The Nation of Islam also uses the term, and in that case it is a title and should be capitalized before the person’s name.
A derogatory term for a member of the Unification Church. Journalists should not use it except in direct quotes. See Unification Church.
Started in 1979 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, it was made up of conservative Christian political action committees that campaigned on issues it believed central to upholding its concept of Christian morality. Its leaders believed it represented the majority of Americans’ beliefs; hence the name. The organization officially dissolved in 1989, but its work continues through the Christian Coalition network initiated by Pat Robertson. After the 2004 presidential election, Falwell created a new group called the Moral Majority Coalition.
The leading national fellowship of evangelical denominations, churches, organizations and individuals. Founded in 1942, it focuses on public witness and cooperative ministry among evangelicals. It includes 60 denominations along with other organizations and represents 30 million members.
An association of black Baptist churches that formed after a split with the National Baptist Convention USA.
The oldest and largest black Baptist organization in the United States. Its formal name is National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., but National Baptist Convention USA is acceptable in all references. (AP style currently adds periods to USA, but the denomination says it prefers USA without periods.) It was formed in Atlanta in 1886. Its current presidential headquarters are in Philadelphia, with its world headquarters located at the Baptist World Center in Nashville, Tenn.
A black Baptist denomination that was formed in the 1980s after a disagreement with the National Baptist Convention of America over publishing endeavors.
A term coined in 1947 by the Rev. Harold John Ockenga, an evangelical scholar who served as president of both Fuller and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminaries. He used the term for evangelicals who believe that Jesus Christ is the sole means to salvation, but who are more flexible than traditional evangelicals in their interpretation and understanding of the authority of Scripture. Neo-evangelicals are typically more open to critical-historical methods of Scripture study, and some would say that interpreting Scripture in its context would allow for acceptance of committed homosexual relationships and other practices long condemned by the church. The term should be used with caution.
These terms apply to a movement that developed in the 1960s and 1970s within mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. It is characterized by emotional expressiveness in worship, speaking or praying in “tongues” and healing. Unlike the Pentecostal movement of the early part of the 20th century, the new movement did not result in the creation of new denominations. Instead, its adherents operate within their original denominations.
The part of the Christian Bible written after the death of Jesus Christ. The name traces back to the Greek term meaning new covenant. There are 27 books in the New Testament, including the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as the letters of the Apostles and early church leaders.
The profession of the Christian faith shared by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Catholic churches and most Protestant churches. Its earliest form was first agreed on by the overwhelming majority of hundreds of bishops who met in Nicaea in what is now Turkey in 325, and later expanded upon in 381 in Constantinople and confirmed in Chalcedon in 451. The councils were called to resolve the question of how to understand the divinity of Christ. The creed states that Christ was of one substance (consubstantial) with God the Father and was begotten, not created (made).
Used among North American Protestants to describe Christian churches, activities or organizations that are not sponsored by a specific denomination. Some non-Christian groups, including some Jews, use the term as well. It should not be used as a synonym for interfaith, interdenominational or ecumenical. Independent would be an acceptable substitute for nondenominational.
Also known as the Hebrew Scriptures or Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament makes up the first part of the Christian Bible. Jews do not use this term, and many consider it disrespectful because it implies that the Hebrew Bible is “old” and unnecessary compared with the Christian Scriptures. Use Hebrew Bible in stories solely involving Judaism. It is divided into categories of law, history, poetry and prophecy. All of the books were written before the birth of Jesus. The canonical books used differ among Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, although there is much overlap. Old Testament is capitalized in all references. See Apocrypha.
The sixth Sunday in Lent and the beginning of the Christian Holy Week before Easter. Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The day gets its name from the biblical reference to crowds throwing palm fronds before Jesus as he entered the city. Also known as Passion Sunday, though Palm Sunday is the preferred term.
A Christian organization outside traditional church structures and hierarchies. Examples are organizations devoted to evangelism, missionary work, moral reform and education. They are particularly common among evangelicals. Parachurch is used most often as an adjective but is also used as a noun.
Generally, the head minister or priest of a Christian church, although in some denominations any ordained minister is called pastor. It means shepherd and is also used in reference to bishops and to the pope.
The Greek term for the first five books in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for the same books is Torah.
A Christian feast held on the seventh Sunday after Easter that marks the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ.
The belief that Christ will return after the establishment of the millennial kingdom, which arises from divinely inspired human efforts. In mild forms, blends with progressive reforms; in more extreme ones, with violent theocracies.
A contemporary style of music and worship that is particularly popular among evangelical and nondenominational Christian churches.
The belief that God predetermines whether people’s afterlife is to be spent in heaven or hell. It is most often associated with Swiss theologian John Calvin.
A foundational belief of conservative Protestants about prophecy and end times, it was conceived in the 19th century by theologian John Nelson Darby and made popular by the Left Behind novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. It combines two theological views. Dispensationalism dictates that history is a series of eras or dispensations in which God interacts with the world in distinct ways. Premillennialism teaches that Jesus Christ will return before reigning for a thousand years, as prophesied in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Together, the theologies teach that the current era will soon end and usher in the Rapture and battle of Armageddon. Each term may also be used independently.
The belief that Jesus will return before the beginning of the millennium and will be the impetus for the final battle between good and evil. It often includes apocalyptic expectation of Rapture, tribulation, the Antichrist, strong dualist tendencies, emphasis on preparation of self and missionizing.
One of the two major Presbyterian bodies in the United States. The Presbyterian Church in America is the smaller and more conservative of the two. Always use the full name Presbyterian Church (USA), or PCUSA on subsequent references, to avoid confusion.
The PCUSA is divided into 173 (as of 2010) local governing bodies called presbyteries, which are then grouped into regional synods (16). Each congregation is led by a “session” of elders, although Religion News Service style is to generally not use that word.
The General Assembly meets every two years and is the highest legislative body in the denomination. The highest court in the church is called the Permanent Judicial Council.
The smaller and more conservative of the two main Presbyterian bodies in the U.S. To avoid confusing it with the Presbyterian Church (USA), always use the full name, or PCA on second reference.
These Protestant members of the Reformed tradition developed in the 16th century from the doctrines of the Calvinist churches in Switzerland and France. In the U.S., there are two major Presbyterian bodies – the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the more conservative, much smaller Presbyterian Church in America – as well as other, even smaller ones. Presbyterian churches are led by a group of elders, a form of church governance known as Presbyterianism. All Presbyterian clergy may be described as ministers. Use the Rev. before a cleric’s name on first reference. On second reference use only the last name.
A Christian doctrine that believers have direct access to God and do not need professional priests to act as intermediaries. Based on New Testament passages (including 1 Peter 2:9), it stands in contrast to the role of priests in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. This doctrine has also been a source of debate in the Southern Baptist Convention when members have accused leaders of imposing interpretations of Scripture.
A term used to describe people who support abortion rights. Abortion, however, is a more nuanced issue, with many people supporting abortion in some circumstances, but not all. Journalists should instead use the term pro-abortion rights or a similar description. See abortion, pro-life.
A term used to describe people who oppose abortion. Abortion, however, is a more nuanced issue, with many people opposing abortion rights in most, but not all, circumstances. Journalists should instead use a description of their views, such as opposed to abortion or against abortion rights. See abortion, pro-choice.
The first is a prediction viewed as a divine revelation; the second is a verb meaning to make such a prediction. The principal theological definition of prophesy, though, is not to foretell the future but to speak the word of God. Some Christian traditions – especially Pentecostals – use it primarily to refer to revelation of future events involving the return of Christ. Other churches, however, use it primarily in references to biblical teaching about social justice and concern for the poor.
The controversial teaching that God will reward signs of faith with wealth, health and happiness. It was popularized during the 1950s, particularly by Oral Roberts and his “Expect a Miracle” television ministry. The prosperity gospel is most frequently preached by televangelists, fundamentalists, evangelicals and African-Americans. It is also called “word faith,” “name-it-and-claim-it,” “health and wealth gospel” and “positive confession.”
In the 16th century, church thinkers and leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin demanded changes in Roman Catholic Church doctrine and practice. That led to the development of denominations made up of the protesters or “protestants” who declared themselves independent of papal authority. Many Protestants say the word means to “testify forth,” as in to preach the word of God. Protestant churches include Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Quaker churches. The label Protestant is not applied to Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. It also should not be used to describe a member of an Orthodox church.
In Christian eschatology, a term used to describe the sudden transportation of true Christians into heaven before other events associated with the end of the world take place. See premillennial dispensationalism.
In general, follow AP’s guidelines on religious references.
- deities: Capitalize the proper names of the deities from monotheistic religions — God, Allah, the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. Lowercase pronouns referring to the deities. When referring to the deities of polytheistic religions, lowercase the words god and gods, but capitalize the proper name of a specific deity, such as Zeus or Odin.
- life of Christ: Capitalize the names of major events in Jesus Christ’s life, such as the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Nativity, the Resurrection. Crucifixion and Resurrection should always be capitalized when referring to Jesus — a departure from AP style.
- rites: Capitalize proper names for rites commemorating the Last Supper or that signify a belief in Christ’s presence, such as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Holy Eucharist. The word communion alone is lowercase. Lowercase the names of other sacraments. Capitalize Benediction when referring to the Catholic religious service with that name, but not when referring to other rites or acts of blessing. Capitalize Mass, but lowercase preceding adjectives, such as funeral Mass.
- holy days: Capitalize the names of holy days.
- other references: Lowercase heaven, hell and devil. Capitalize Hades and Satan. Lowercase angel unless it precedes a name, such as the Angel Gabriel. Lowercase apostle unless it precedes the name of one of the original Twelve Apostles or of Paul, or refers to those Apostles collectively.
A term used to describe people and groups whose religious beliefs inform their conservative political and social views. The term dates to 1979, when the Rev. Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority. Since then, politically active religious conservatives have diversified in their goals and approaches. Journalists should refer to the so-called “religious right” or religious conservatives. It is best to specify which groups the term refers to and what they are promoting. See religious left.
In monotheistic religions, revelation is the process through which God reveals or communicates truths about God’s self or will. Uppercase when referring to the final book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. (Note that Revelation is singular.)
An attributive form of address given to many but not all ordained Christian and Buddhist clergy. Do not use this honorific form unless you are sure that the particular denomination accepts its use. Follow AP style of using the article the to precede the abbreviation Rev. Never use the Rev. Dr. together before a name. See religious titles for guidance.
A Christian rite than confers grace and serves as a visible form of it. The Orthodox, Roman Catholic and certain Episcopal churches believe there are seven sacraments: Eucharist or Communion, baptism, confirmation, penance (often called confession), anointing of the ill, marriage and ordination (holy orders). Most Protestant churches recognize only two sacraments, baptism and Communion. Lowercase sacrament, but capitalize when using the proper names for sacramental rites that commemorate the life of Christ or signify a belief in his presence, such as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion and Holy Eucharist. Lowercase the other sacraments.
The sacred writings of a religious group. Capitalize when referring to writings from the Holy Bible but not otherwise.
A term used by some evangelicals to describe a conversion-moment prayer, in which a person acknowledges sinfulness and seeks a relationship with Christ.
Refers to a Protestant movement, prominent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, that sought to apply Jesus’ teachings to social problems, such as poverty and industrialization. Sin and salvation were seen as social rather than individual.
A council, usually in a Christian church, convened to decide a doctrinal or administrative issue. Uppercase in formal names.
A Greek word, meaning “to view together,” used to refer to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which tell many of the same stories of Jesus’ life and can be compared side-by-side. The Gospel of John tells different stories in a different sequence.
Pronounced “TEH-zay.” A Christian worship service known for silence, simple music, candle lighting, prayer and meditation. It is drawn from the practices of a monastic community founded in the Burgundy region of France during World War II. Taizé emphasizes Christian unity. People from Roman Catholic, Protestant and other traditions from all over the world flock to Taizé to take part in worship, service and reflection.
The biblical edicts handed to Moses by God atop Mount Sinai. They are the basis of Mosaic law. They are found in Exodus 20:2-17, 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Exodus 20 is the most commonly quoted version. The commandments are numbered differently by Jews and by different Christian traditions, including Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Christians. The different numbering and wording (according to the biblical translation chosen) is one factor that has made public posting of the Ten Commandments controversial.
This key doctrine in Christianity says that God, the Son and the Holy Spirit together make up the one Godhead. The exact nature and definition of the Trinity were central in the split between the Eastern and Western Christian churches.
The formal name of this organization founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon is the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, but Unification Church is acceptable in all references. Moon launched it in 1954 in South Korea, six years after the Presbyterian Church of Korea excommunicated him for beliefs it said were incompatible with traditional Christianity. Among other beliefs, followers reject the Trinity, saying instead that God is a single being with male and female aspects. Members are often called Moonies, but the term is considered derogatory; they call themselves Unificationists. Use Moonies only in direct quotes.
A mainline Protestant denomination and the largest of the Congregationalist denominations. The word church is applied only to individual, local churches. Clergy members are known as ministers. Pastor is used if a minister leads a congregation. On first reference, use the Rev. before the name. On second reference, use only the last name.
The largest Methodist denomination and the second-largest Protestant body in the United States. Officially, the denomination is The United Methodist Church, but the Religion Stylebook follows Associated Press style in not capitalizing “The” as part of the name. See Methodist churches.
A denomination that says it promotes “practical Christianity.” It is the primary church in the “New Thought” movement, which teaches belief in monism, the universal presence of creative energy, or God, within the world and within all people. Some adherents accept traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus, but many do not.
A New Year’s Eve worship service popular in African-American churches. It dates back to 1864, when tradition holds that slaves waited all night long to hear word of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Worship is the act of offering devotion and praise to a deity or deities. It is most often used in reference to formal religious services, but also applies to private prayer and other acts done to honor or revere the sacred. Many evangelical Protestants have a tendency to use it specifically in reference to music – especially contemporary praise music – sung in church. Thus, the leader of the contemporary singing group may appear in the church bulletin as “praise and worship leader.”
Pronounced “YAH-way.” An English translation of the four Hebrew letters usually transliterated as YHWH that form the name of God. Jews do not attempt to pronounce this name, as they believe that would risk taking the name of God in vain. Wherever it appears in Scripture, they say “the Lord” (“Adonai”) instead, and a vowel marking beneath the four consonants renders the word unpronounceable in Hebrew. Sixteenth-century Protestants attempted to transliterate this word, resulting in “Jehovah.”
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