Glossary of Key Terms



  • aberrational: Off-center or in error in some important way, such that the doctrine or practice should be rejected and those who accept it held to be sinning, even though they may very well be Christian. Also called aberrant.
  • apostasy: A falling away or departure from a previously maintained orthodox position (as in certain denominations which once held to orthodoxy but have rejected it). Adj.: apostate.
  • biblical: Agreeing with or faithful to the teaching of the Bible. Whatever is contrary to its teaching is unbiblical, though this word is usually used only when the biblical teaching violated is clear and of vital importance.
  • cult: A religious group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining fervent commitment to heresy. Adj.: cultic (may be used with reference to tendencies as well as full cult status).
  • denomination: A religious body originating as a Christian movement or sect and generally classified as a Christian body regardless of its doctrinal orthodoxy.
  • discern: Identify the true nature of a spirit, doctrine, practice, or group; distinguish truth from error, extreme error from slight error, the divine from the human and the demonic.
  • doctrine: Content of teaching intended to be accepted and believed as truth.
  • dogma: Doctrine which a church or sect expects all its members to accept in order to remain in good standing; or, one which a church or sect expects its members to accept simply on the church's or sect's authority. Adj.: dogmatic.
  • excommunication: A church disciplinary action in which a person who refuses to repent of promoting heretical views, or of engaging in gross sin, is no longer accepted as a member of the church. Such a person may not participate in the ordinances of the church, may not teach or minister in any way, and in extreme cases may be asked to refrain from attending church meetings.
  • heresy: Doctrine which is erroneous in such a way that Christians must divide themselves as a church from all who teach or accept it; those adhering to heresy are assumed to be lost, although Christians are unable to make definitive judgments on this matter. The opposite of orthodoxy. Adj.: heretical.
  • heterodox: Differing from orthodox teaching in some significant way; may occur in varying degrees.
  • orthodoxy: The body of essential biblical teachings. Those who embrace them should be accepted as Christians. The opposite of heresy. Adj.: orthodox.
  • orthopraxis: Correct practice required of anyone who would be regarded as a Christian.
  • schism: A division within a religious group, especially one which divides Christians from one another. Adj.: schismatic.
  • sect: A religious group formed as the result of schism, especially one which is fairly small and of relatively recent origin. Adj.: sectarian.
  • sound: Agreeing with and faithful to biblical teaching and to orthodoxy beyond a bare minimum, such that Christians may be encouraged to continue in this way. Contrasted with aberrational, which refers to orthodox teaching or practice which is only barely so. Its opposite, unsound, may be used to express degrees of deficiency in soundness.
  • suborthodox: Less than orthodox, yet not explicitly contrary to orthodoxy.
  • unorthodox: Departing from orthodoxy in some measure, though not necessarily embracing explicit heresy.