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  • Virginia Brown

Catholic vs Roman Catholic

It’s important to speak clearly. Because doctrine matters, the way we communicate doctrine also matters. Therefore, when talking about doctrine (and any time we speak), we should aim for clarity. When we talk about Roman Catholicism, it’s important to speak clearly about it. How do we do that? I suggest including “Roman” before the “Catholic.” That is, don’t refer to the Roman Catholic church as the “Catholic” church. Instead, refer to it as the “Roman Catholic” church. Here’s why.

The word “catholic” simply means “general or universal.” The catholic church is the unified church from all tribes, nations, peoples, and tongues (Rev 7:9). We, Community Bible Church, are an example of the catholic church. “Catholic” is a great theological word. Christians have used the term for a long time to describe the nature of the church. One of the ancient Christian creeds describes the church as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” That’s true. We need to uphold and teach those qualities—catholic included.

The Roman Catholic church is a lot different than the catholic church. And the adjective “Roman” communicates that. The Roman Catholic church isn’t catholic. The catholic, universal church has no geographical center. It can’t, for it’s universal. The Roman Catholic church does have a geographical center: Rome. Adding “Roman” before “Catholic” is like adding “jumbo” before “shrimp”—it doesn’t make sense.

There’s a massive difference between the catholic church and the Roman Catholic church. We are a part of the former, not the latter. We need to use the term catholic. Don’t let Roman Catholics coop the term. To facilitate this, when you speak of the Roman Catholic church, don’t abbreviate it by saying the “Catholic church.” Insist on keeping the “Roman” before the “Catholic.”

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