I discuss words and phrases various Christians groups use differently. The same words and phrases have different meanings, sometimes radically different meanings. I'm surprised Christians can even communicate with each other at all.

Some of the various categories/groups of Christians ...

Why this article? ...

  1. To introduce others to the topic. As a Protestant this topic was never mentioned.
  2. To try to foster understanding and unity between Christians of different faith traditions.
  3. To defend my Catholic views against attacks by anti-Catholics.

Catholics reserve the use of the term Church for the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches and refer to all other Christian groups as Christian Communities.

I am excluding the use of these words and phrases by Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and Jehovah's Witnesses — These groups are not part of the Christian tradition and they have a very different usage of these words and phrases. They are speaking a different language, a non-Christian language.

When I say "the Catholic Church teaches" such and such, I mean that the teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church teaches it — individual Catholics may have different various opinions, but views contrary to the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church are not strictly speaking Catholic views at all.


Misunderstood Catholic terms

Anathema | Crusades | Order | Annulment | Sacraments | Indulgences | Purgatory | Limbo

Anti-Catholics misrepresent Catholicism (shame on them!)


Doctrinal Differences

Great Tribulation | Rapture

Special meanings by fundamentalist Protestants



Blood | Charismatic | Prayer | Meditate | The Word / Word of God | God's Will | Ordained | Born Again | Tongues | Church | Penance | Confession | Reason vs. Revelation | Infallibility | Christian | Denomination


What is it that makes a person a Christian? There are various views.

Fundamentalist evangelical Protestants usually claim that Christians are those who have had a "born-again" experience. Some Protestant denominations claim that those who belong to their denomination are the only true Christians. The Catholic Church teaches that those who were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit become Christians.

When someone tells me they are a Christian I don't know what they mean until they tell me what they believe and practice.

Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be Christian but are not because they do not have the same faith tradition.


There are both Catholic as well as Protestant charismatics.The Catholic Church allows the Catholic charismatic movement to exist but does not teach whether or not its claims are true.

Charismatics typically believe and practice the following ...

I am a bit troubled by Catholic charismatics who claim there is a non-sacramental second baptism of the Holy Spirit — this is what the sacrament of Confirmation is. This charismatic claim is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. Certainly anyone can become enlivened by the Holy Spirit at any time.

I am not a charismatic and I do not believe the claims made by charismatics. For example ...

There are many non-charismatic Protestants who disbelieve the charismatic claims as strongly as I do.

It is my opinion that charismatics have a particular way of viewing Christianity. They tend to emphasize the moment-by-moment experience by (1) seeking God's will for the present circumstance, and (2) seeking to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit. The emotional aspect of the faith is emphasized and the use of rational human reason is de-emphasized. Thus, they prefer to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the moment rather than perfect themselves as they work to excel in virtue,prayer, devotion,etc.

Some charismatic Protestant groups (for example Calvary Chapel) generally limit many of the charismatic practices to special meetings.


The second commandment tells us not to make idols. The question is, what is an idol?

In the Old Testament an idol was an image or statue which was used in worship of a false god.

Anti-Catholic Protestants claim that Catholics worship idols because they have statues and images. But the difference is that Catholics do not worship false gods but the true God; the trinitarian God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I feel insulted when non-Catholic Christians insist I worship idols because I'm Catholic. It's as of they are looking for any reason to condemn my practice of Chrisrtianity. They say there are no images in the Bible but this is not so ...

In addition, these same Protestants themselves use symbols and images. Examples ...

Regarding the objection to relics, the Bible has these ...


Different groups of Christians have different ways of praying. All Christians who emphasize prayer allow for extemporaneous prayer. Some allow for the reciting of written prayers. A few groups such as Catholics allow for repetitive prayer. Charismatics typically prefer emotionally-charged prayers.

Some Christian groups such as Catholics and Orthodox have prayer practices which are deemed improper by others. This includes the use of icons, statues, and other images and sometimes involves touching and kissing.

There are different postures allowed for prayer but as far as I can tell there is not much controversy about this aspect of prayer.


All Christian groups which emphasize having a devotional life use the term "meditate." This term is used very differently that the way it is used by other non-Christians. In yoga, for example, the term is used to refer to emptying the mind but in Christian usage of the term something quite different is meant. The problem is that some Christians have incorporated the non-Christian aspect of meditation into their devotional practice.

The Christian way of meditating is to mull over events, doctrines, Bible passages, etc.

The Word / Word of God

The term "Word"has several meanings ...

I'm uncomfortable when non-Catholic Christians use this term because they often use it in the context of sola-scriptura. This has the side-effect of implying that their particular interpretation of the scripture is trustworthy and true when is some cases it is heretical. Also, in my experience, they switch back and forth using the various meanings without clearly identifying which meaning they have in mind. Because of this it is difficult to communicate clearly when using this term.

God's Will

Christians all believe in God's will. The confusion comes in when determining which events are caused by God's will and which are not. For example, Calvinistssay that God determines who will be saved by electing them for salvation.

There is sometimes disagreement about why God would allow bad things to happen. Does this mean that God willed these events?

Another issue is how man's will interacts with God's will. Does God suspend his will to not impede man's will?

The differences of opinion seem to be harmless enough but they can generate disagreement when interpreting events. Was it God's will that such-and-such happened or just the result of random forces of nature?

Great Tribulation

The term Great Tribulation generally refers to a time of trouble which occurs in the in the future (but not all agree that it will occur in the future, for example, full preterists believe it occurred in 70 A.D.) I don't agree with this view either but I am not a Preterist.

Many eschatological (end-time) systems (including the Catholic Church) agree there will be a Great Tribulation but the many details and characteristics vary considerably depending on the system. For this reason it is difficult to find common ground when discussing the topic.


Some Protestants believe there will be a rapture. Many do not. This is based on a particular end-time view.


As a fundamentalist evangelical Protestant I was taught that religion was a bad thing, that we should have a relationship not a religion. As a Catholic I believed there was nothing wrong with the external trappings of religion, but that religion without a Holy Spirit-enlivened life is a problem. The anti-religionists typically refer to denominations as religions or religious.


Most Protestant Christian groups believe in what I call "self-ordination" (although they don't state it this way). The founder of each distinct group (denomination) was typically a renegade from an existing group who started the new group without being ordained and sent off to do so. Then, once the new group is founded, subsequent leaders of that group must be ordained in order to be valid leaders of that group. Thus, ordination is not for the purpose of passing-on the faith but is, rather, to ensure that all leaders of the group are in unity with that group.

The Catholic Church teaches that ordination is a sacrament and that one of its purposes is to pass-on the faith. But for this to occur, the ordained Catholic minister (bishop, priest, deacon) must believe, practice, and teach the faith. Alas, this is all-too-often not the reality is the present time and throughout church history. I am horrified when I attend mass and discover that the priest obviously does not believe the teachings of the Catholic Church or when I learn of Catholic bishops who obviously are not 100% faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Born Again

We should all desire to be born again. This term refers to becoming saved, redeemed, to becoming part of the Kingdom of God.

Fundamentalist evangelical Protestants often teach that a person is born again merely be accepting Jesus as their personal savior, or by accepting Jesus into their heart, or by having faith only. But this is not what the Bible teaches. Certainly these things are all necessary ingredients for a person to be born again.

To be born again requires being born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5).The reference to water is not merely the physical water used in baptism but denotes the cleansing of a soul from the effects of original sin.

For info about the Biblical passages indicating salvation is not merely by faith alone.


This is addressed in the section about the charismatic movement.


Many meanings of the word:

  1. Abstract set of all believers (all who end up in the new heavens and new earth)
  2. Local Christian assembly
  3. Must have unity via Eucharistand ordination else not a Church but, rather, merely a Christian Community.
  4. Christ's mystical body composed of Spirit-filled, baptized believers
  5. Human institution established by God having laws, leaders, a physical presence (political power, etc). Some of these Church leaders might not end up in the new heavens and new earth


The dictionary definition of the word penance: An act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin.

Most Protestants believe that penance is not necessary since our sins (past, present, and future) were forgiven when we came to faith in Christ. Even sins we commit in the future don't require penance because: (1) our sins don't affect our salvation, and (2) God will forgive the sins when we ask him to in prayer. In fact, it is thought that penance is worse than useless; it is harmful because it means we believe (1) that we must perform works for God to forgive our sins, or even worse, (2) that we work-off our sins through our acts of penance without even requiring God's forgiveness.

Penance is an important part of the faith life of Catholics. While the Catholic Church does teach that we cannot earn God's forgiveness for any sin by our actions, even by acts of penance, the Catholic Church teaches that the regular practice of penance has great value. Our sins should so trouble us that they prompt us to perform acts of penance including participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (required for mortal sins). Since our sins grieve God and harm others, we should do something however humble to try to make up for it. But we can never do enough so in the end we must receive God's grace of forgiveness — not knowing where to draw this line is the source of scrupulosity which is itself a sin.


One of the seven Catholic sacraments (called confession, penance, or reconciliation) provides forgiveness of sins. In this sacrament the penitent confesses sins committed and the priest forgives the sins in the name of Jesus. In Catholic teaching, mortal sins require participation in this sacrament because mortal sins by definition cause a loss of salvation — the Church provides the sacrament of Reconcilliation as the means for coming back into fellowship with God. Lesser sins (venial sins) don't require sacramental confession but still provides benefit. Catholics can confess their venial sins directly to God.

Protestants typically believe that you only need to confess your sins directly to God.


Most Protestants don't understand this term. They often think of it as is a kind of a curse.

The Catholic Church follows the Biblical practice of excommunication. The necessary ingredients for person to be excommunicated are ...

Certain councils of the Catholic Church declared which beliefs, teachings, and practices warrant excommunication. It's as simple as that.


Anti-Catholics typically use the Crusades as evidence the Catholic Church is corrupt and not the true church. A few points ...

Reason vs. Revelation

The question is whether humans can use and trust their reason in learning of the things of God and of salvation.

Some Protestants teach that human reason is completely untrustworthy and that only the Bible provides sure guidance. The difficulty arises in interpreting the Bible, and that is why there are so many Protestant denominations having so many conflicting teachings.

The Catholic teaching is: we can and must trust human reason; our mental facilities are wounded by original sin but not completely inoperable.


A complex topic. Only the Catholic Church teaches this.

The teaching of the Catholic Church on this topic is often misrepresented by non-Catholic Christians. It is not a works-based scheme for getting into heaven.

Another common misconception concerns references to days spent in purgatory. The Catholic Church doesn't teach anything about how long a person spends in Purgatory or whether or not it is even a place at all. The days referred to are the days spent performing a penance or devotional practice in the context of gaining an Indulgence.


Only the Catholic Church teaches this.

The teaching of the Catholic Church on this topic is often misrepresented by non-Catholic Christians. It is not a "second chance" for those who would otherwise go to hell.

Another common misconception concerns references to days spent in purgatory. The Catholic Church doesn't teach anything about how long a person spends in Purgatory or whether or not it is even a place at all. The days referred to are the days spent performing a penance or devotional practice in the context of gaining an Indulgence.


The term "limbo of infants" refers to the theory that infants who die before receiving baptism ...

  1. Cannot go to heaven (since baptism provides salvation from original sin), and
  2. Would not go to hell (since God is merciful and they are innocent of any wrongdoing). Note: Augustine and Aquinas both taught that they would go to hell.

Based on this, the idea of limbo was developed since there must another destination for them. This place was named "limbo of infants". (The term "limbo of the fathers" was used to refer to the place that Jesus went after he died — that term is not discussed in this article).

The teaching of the "limbo of infants" has never been an official teaching of the Catholic Church (although it appeared in the Baltimore Catechism in section 632).

Currently, the Catholic Church has no official teaching about the destiny of unbaptized infants. Schismatic Catholic Traditionalists insist that they go to hell, the same as any other unbaptized person. But the Catholic Church allows for the possibility that an unbaptized person can go to heaven (but this is a risky route).

Many Protestants teach that baptism is merely a symbolic act of obedience and that it has nothing to do with salvation. Some of these think infants go to hell because they have not received the gift of salvation through faith in Christ (since they are too young to have faith). Others think everyone goes to heaven until they are old enough to be accountable for their sins (the age of accountability, perhaps as early as seven years old.)


All Christians believe in a doctrine of infallibilitywhether they state it this way or not.

Protestant Communities believe that the Word of God is True and therefore infallible. They often claim that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God and that it can be trusted to communicate Truth. The difficulty is in interpreting it — Protestants rarely claim that their interpretations are infallible (but they often practice their faith as if they do believe this).

The Catholic Church teaches that the teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church is infallible; that it is inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit to be infallible.


The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have seven sacraments.In a sacrament, God imparts actual grace during the sacramental rite. These sacraments are not magic rites and they only provide benefit when performed with the correct disposition.

Some Protestant Communities claim to have two sacraments (baptism and the Lord's supper) but their meaning of the term "sacrament" is quite different than that of Catholics and Orthodox.

Other Protestant Communities fall somewhere in the middle, but usually they are quite different than the Catholic and Orthodox view.


The Catholic Church allows for groups of Catholics to form communities based on certain beliefs and practices while still remaining united to the Catholic Church — these are called orders. Orders are not denominations because all Catholics, whether in an order or not, all believe the same Catholic dogmas regarding faith and morals. It is the "discipline" which varies (the daily schedule, which prayers they pray, their worldly work, their dress, etc.)


The Catholic Church does not have denominations but it does have orders. Sometimes people mistakenly refer to various schismatic Catholic groups as "denominations" but this is an incorrect use of the term.

Many Protestant communities have organized themselves into denominations. A denomination has a set of common beliefs and dogmas which all the members are expected to adhere to.

There are some Protestant communities which claim to be "non-Denominational." Many of these are, in fact, denominations but they choose to not use the term. Others are truly not denominations because their particular beliefs are one-of-a-kind.


Sometimes sarcastically referred to as "Catholic divorce."

The concept of annulment is rather complex and often misunderstood even by Catholics. It is based on the idea that different people have different ideas about what marriage is and that only the Catholic Church has the correct concept because only it is graced by the Holy Spirit with infallibility.

In Catholic teaching there is no such thing as divorce because marriage is a covenant which only ends with the death of a partner. Thus, when people get divorced there are two possibilities ...

  1. They were not really married to begin with (as evidenced by the fact that they even considered divorce as an option in the first place).
  2. They are still married.

Annulment only comes into play when a Catholic who was divorced wants to remarry. If their marriage is still valid in the eyes of God (option 2 above) then they cannot be remarried in the Catholic Church, but if their previous marriage was never valid to begin with in the eyes of God (option 1 above) then that "marriage" is annulled and they are free to marry in the Catholic Church (assuming they meet the various other conditions).

Many people (including Catholics) object to all of this. Common criticisms ...

I feel sorry for the many divorced and remarried Catholics who cannot take communion because their current marriage is considered to be adulterous. Yet I also agree that there is no such thing as divorce (except in the case of abuse) and that the state is incapable of determining what marriage even is.

The Orthodox Church also agrees there is no such thing as divorce but allows for up to three "divorces" and remarriages. This seems arbitrary to me.


In a Baptist church I was introduced to the curious phrase "power in the blood". They would get very animated and excited when using this phrase. I never did learn what they meant.

Various meanings of the word "blood" (referring to Christ's blood) ...