I was recently involved in a facebook comment thread in which a Reformed Christian said he calls himself “catholic” (small “c”) and when someone else calls himself “Catholic”, meaning Roman Catholic, he corrects the Catholic and tells him he should be calling himself “Roman Catholic”, not “Catholic”. I am posting my response here because I feel this creates a real issue among Christians who try to talk to each other about religion.
Please don’t go around correcting people for using language in the common way everyone uses it. It’s arrogant and condescending. I apologize if I’m overreacting, but I grew up in a church that does that (“The preacher is NOT the pastor! We’re not sitting in a church, we’re sitting in a church BUILDING!” etc., etc., ad nauseum.) If you know what someone means, respond accordingly. If you don’t, ask for clarification. To do otherwise is just rude.
Besides the rudeness of this, it also assumes the doctrine of the invisible church, which not everyone accepts. Reformed Christians are “catholic” only under a paradigm of an invisible church. Absent that paradigm, we have the necessity of a visible church, and assuming that visible church, the only possible contender is the Catholic Church, which is not just Latin/Roman but also Maronite, Byzantine, etc. So telling someone who calls himself Catholic that he should call himself “Roman Catholic” disrespects his beliefs about his own religion and might even be technically incorrect because he might be Catholic without being Roman at all.
Please consider these points when you are tempted to tell a Catholic that he’s not really catholic, or to insist he call himself “Roman” rather than just “Catholic”. Or if you are a Catholic who has encountered someone who insists on calling you “Roman” rather than just Catholic, maybe this will help you answer your detractor.