Defining Religion

Browse the glossary using this index

Special | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | ALL

Page:  1  2  (Next)



The pronouncement of God's forgiveness. The absolution is spoken by the pastor after the confession of sins in our worship services. Every Christian, however, has the privilege and duty to announce God's forgiveness to penitent sinners.

Advent wreath

The origins of the Advent wreath reach back to pre-Christian times in Northern Europe. As the winter solstice approached, people placed candles on evergreen wreaths in anticipation of the return of longer daylight hours. Christians adapted this custom to the Advent season and the anticipation of the celebration of Christmas. By the dawn of the Reformation the Advent wreath as we know it today was in use.

Advent wreaths are formed from the branches of various types of evergreens. The evergreen branches symbolize eternal life. Four candles adorn the wreath. Three purple or blue candles representing hope, peace, and love are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays, respectively, of Advent. On the third Sunday the rose candle, symbolizing joy, is lit. Some Advent wreaths have a fifth candle in the middle. This white candle, representing the birth of Jesus and the announcement of the angels, is lit on Christmas Day. The lighting of each candle expresses the longing, joy, and thankfulness of God’s people as we commemorate our Savior’s first coming and our anticipation of his second coming to judge the world and to take us to heaven.


A person who claims that we cannot know whether there is a God or not. An agnostic ignores the natural knowledge of God that we have in nature (Romans 1:19-20) and our conscience (Romans 1:32; 2:14-15).


A Hebrew word which means firm, established, reliable; as an adverb it means surely, certainly, assuredly, or truly; at the end of a prayer it is a statement of faith and confidence -- yes, it shall be so.


A spirit being created by God some time during the week of creation (Exodus 20:11). Angels praise God (Isaiah 6:2-3), deliver his messages (Luke 1:28-38, 2:8-14), and serve him by helping and protecting his people (Daniel 6:22, Acts 5:18-20, Psalm 91:11-12). They are numerous (2 Kings 6:16-17, Matthew 26:53) and powerful (Psalm 103:20, Genesis 19:10-11).


The false view that the law has no place or role in the life of the Christian. This view has appeared from time to time in the history of the Christian Church. The Antinomian controversy in the Lutheran Church was settled by the fifth and sixth articles of the Formula of Concord.


The books written before Christ was born which were excluded from the Hebrew canon. The Roman Catholic Church has accepted them as books of the Bible, but Lutherans and Protestants have not. The term is also sometimes used for certain books excluded from the New Testament canon.


The use of logical arguments and evidence in defense of Christian truth against the attacks of unbelievers. However, human argumentation can never bring anyone to faith. The gospel alone is God's power for salvation (Romans 1:16; 10:17).

Apology to Augsburg Confession

The defense of the Augsburg Confession written by Philip Melanchthon and published in 1531. The Apology serves as the Lutheran response to the Catholic claim that the Augsburg Confession had been refuted by the Catholic theologians. It also serves as an explanation of the biblical truths proclaimed in the Augsburg Confession.


One who has been sent out with a message or commission to speak with authority. At times the Bible uses the term in a broad sense to include prominent Christian teachers (Romans 16:7). In common use the term refers to the 12 who were commissioned by Christ after his resurrection as his special witnesses.

Apostles' Creed

A statement of the basic beliefs of Christianity. Trinitarian in nature, this creed developed in the early church as a baptismal creed and reached its present form about the seventh century. There is no historical evidence to support the tradition that it was composed by the 12 apostles with each contributing an article. We commonly recite the Apostles' Creed in non-communion services.


An ancient heresy named after Arius, the fourth-century priest who promoted it. Arianism denies the full divinity and eternity of God the Son, claiming that the Son had a beginning and is subordinate to the Father. The Jehovah's Witnesses teach a similar error today. The Nicene Creed was formulated in response to this heresy.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent occurring forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays). It received its name from the ancient custom of Christians putting ashes (from the previous year's Palm Sunday palms) on their foreheads as a sign of penitence.

Athanasian Creed

A statement of Christian teaching concerning the Trinity and the person of Christ. This creed was probably written in the early sixth century in Gaul by an unknown author. An early tradition falsely ascribes it to Athanasius, the fourth-century defender of the deity of Christ. It is often recited on Trinity Sunday.


A person who believes that there is no God. The Bible calls such a person a fool (Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1).

Augsburg Confession

The statement of Lutheran beliefs written by Philip Melanchthon and delivered by the Lutheran princes to emperor Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530. The reading of this confession marked the birth of the Lutheran Church. Its teachings remain authoritative for Lutherans today because the confession is a correct exposition of scriptural truth.

Page:  1  2  (Next)