A heated debate

Me and my father discuss Catholicism often and it is hard for me to answer his questions/attacks since I am new to the faith myself.

One major thing that I keep getting bombarded with is, “Why the need to be called ‘Catholic’? Why can’t Catholics just call themselves Christians. Are they Catholics first and Christians second?” The question seems ridiculous when you hear it, but all the same I don’t have a good answer for him.

I think he feels that the term some sort of “Elitist” classification and I could definitely see how he would be offended by that.

What could I say to him to alleviate this misunderstanding?

In my opinion…up till Luther, the only Christians were Catholics. So if you said you were Catholic, that meant by definition that you were Christian. And if per chance you said you were Christian, that meant by definition that you were Catholic.

Now we have those who are not Catholic, but still consider themselves Christians, so they are the ones who brought that distinction into the world, and many of them claim that Catholics are not Christians. This is ironic, because those non-Catholic Christians have left a part of the Christian faith behind when they abandoned the Catholic church.

Of course, Catholics are Christians. The original Christians. The ONLY Christians until the 1500’s.

“Catholic” is not meant to be elitist, but the Catholic church does have the fullness of truth, and the other Christian denominations have only a part of it, by their own choice.

Catholic means, “everybody”

so when he says, “Catholics are elitists”, that isn’t true. We include everybody! The Catholic faith includes wealthy people, poor people, smart people, not smart people, etc etc.
I would think the majority of Catholics are just average people.

Christian means, “a believer in Jesus Christ”. A Catholic is a Christian, they are the same, because Catholics believe in Jesus Christ.

Great post,

I would think that the word “Catholic” capital C is derived from “catholic” with lower case c. If you go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church CCC 830. It pretty much explains that the term catholic means universal. The Roman Catholic Church is just a universal church with the Roman rite. Their are many “Catholic” churches in full communion with the Bishop of Rome (Pope) that follow a NON-Roman rite. The Eastern follow the Byzantine or Greek rites and very soon we will likely have some Anglicans in communion with Rome that will follow their own rite.

What this means for your argument with your father would be that they are all “catholic” churches, but the term Catholic (Large C) is usually used to define the Roman rite of the Universal catholic (Lower case c).

Still learning as much as I can…take care,

So what does your father think of those Christians who call themselves Baptist, Russian Orthodox, Episcopalian, Methodist and so on? I go past many churches that have these ‘elitist’ labels on their signs, and have met many persons who will refer to themselves by these denominational names.

Read the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series of books, with its amusing bylines about the ever-present ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality between Methodists and Presbyterians and you’ll know what I mean.

It makes no sense for people to NOT describe their religious faith in these precise ways. They enable a level of understanding without requiring a whole lot of convoluted explanation.

May as well cease referring to people as ‘men’ and ‘woman’ (after all, aren’t we all just ‘humans’?)

Sure, it enables an ‘us and them’ mentality. But without it understanding would be much more difficult if not impossible - after all, if I describe myself as a ‘citizen of an English-speaking country’ that leaves an impossibly huge swathe of the world where I might reside - and people often need to know with precision whether I’m American, Canadian, Irish, Scottish, Australian, South African or whatnot.

“Catholic” means universal, and I believe it is in reference to the fact that this Church Christ founded was not meant strictly for one ethnic group (like the nation of Israel in the OT), but rather, for all men to embrace. It does not mean that we embrace all ideas (heretical ideas have no place in the Church of God), nor does it mean that we embrace all lifestyles (adultery, homosexual acts, promiscuity, etc…). Rather, it is a universal calling to the One, True Church.

Now, other denominations may try to get around this by referring to themselves as part of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church and de-emphasize the name “Catholic” in order to avoid obvious discrepancies between their church and the “Roman Catholic” Church. This is in order to be able to say the Apostles Creed without blushing. However, most people clearly recognize that “Catholic” means you are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles and holder of the Key’s of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 16:19).

Many denominations claim the title “Christian”, only one claims the proper title, “Catholic”. By emphasizing our distinctness as opposed to our commonality, that upsets some people because it implies that they are somehow “without”. Since we have the fullness of revealed truth, we should not be afraid to state the fact that we are, indeed, the One True Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, and that He desires all men to come to that truth.

Most people who belong to a religious tradition because they want to (not just because of birth) do so because they believe that their tradition’s understanding of a proper relationship with God is the correct one. If your father is a Baptist and not a Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. It is because he has found this tradition’s understanding to be the correct understanding.

If someone finds the correct understanding in the Catholic this has no more of an air of elitism than a Baptist has. It is correct to state that someone is a Catholic Christain because there are certain beliefs that a Catholic has. I don’t understand why Protestant traditions don’t do the same. I am sure that there are Baptist beliefs that are not the same as Methodist so why not acknowledge your belief system?


When Jesus formed His church He did not provide a name. Upon His death and resurrection, as the apostles were, with the presence of the Holy Spirit growing the faith, the small group was called “Nazareans” after the home town where Jesus was raised. As the faith grew, the common term “Christians” was used more frequently by the rulers of the day to describe the followers of “Jesus the Christ”. It remained as such for approximately 100 years, until St. Ignatius of Antioch was writing a letter in which he was describing the phenomenal growth of “the christian” church. In this letter he used the adjective “catholic”, which means universal to describe how large the “christian” faith was growing. I do not have the exact context of his letter, but by way of example, he could have said, that the christian church is now catholic in its growth and appeal. Just as you can say, oxygen is a catholic element in the enviroment of earth. The point being, that upon the use of the adjective “catholic” to describe the growth of “the christian” church, it became more popular than the term “christian” to use when talking about the church. Therefore by popular usage, the adjective Catholic has also become a noun to describe “the original christian” church as the Catholic Church.
Now, this makes an important point as to why Jesus did not name His church. Names can be borrowed - how many “christian churches” out there support abortion? It can be confiscated and abused - how many catholics out there support abortion ? The name is not important, so how did Jesus ensure His church could be identified?
He left four marks, which cannot be borrowed or confiscated. These marks we say in the Creed every Mass, " . . . One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic …". Now get out your catechism’s and read what it says about each of those marks.

Catholic is actually in the Bible in the book of Acts where it talks about the “whole church”, the Greek being kat holei.

So what does your father think of those Christians who call themselves Baptist, Russian Orthodox, Episcopalian, Methodist and so on? I go past many churches that have these ‘elitist’ labels on their signs, and have met many persons who will refer to themselves by these denominational names.

Most baptists, pentecostals, etc. don’t care as much about denominations and just say they are Christian. It is rare that I would find a Catholic, who when asked if they were Christian, would just say ‘yes’. They would most certainly feel the need to elaborate that they were Catholic. I am not condemning this in any way, just observing it.

My father doesn’t accept the proposition that prior to the Protestant reformation there were only Catholics. Nobody argues that the Catholic church hasn’t been around for a LONG time, but my Dad still believes that Baptist/Pentecostals are not simply denominational spinoffs of the reformation. It is hard to argue this point because I can’t prove it so I generally don’t go there.

I think the problem is that he sees the Catholic church as its own religion that just “happens” to be Christian by accident. I don’t know how to clear this misconception up without being offensive.

This could work…or not.

Have you asked your dad where his bible originated? I don’t mean Random House. At the time of the apostles, there were LOTS of writings and sayings about Jesus floating around. Who came up with the “table of contents” for what we now call the Bible?

Catholics don’t just happen to be Christian by accident. All “bible believing” Christians use the Bible that the Catholic Church assembled.

If he investigates “where did the Bible come from” on his own, perhaps his questions will disappear. Or else he will think that Catholics are even more elitist. :shrug:

Just a little addition here, a Catholic is a Christian that accepts the WHOLE doctrine of Christ. We believe that “What God has put together, we cannot put assunder”…in regards to remarriage after divorce,

We believe that the teachings found in Mark 16:16 & -Acts 16:30,31). One cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless he/she has been Bapitzed (either by water, blood or desire), so we Baptize infants as soon as possible after birth. We have the Sacrament of Conformation instead of what protestants call the “Altar Call”. It consists of a year of classes, good works & study of the faith. Then, after meeting the requirements, the one Baptized as an infant, makes their own choice about believing in Christ…through the Catholic Church.

We take the story of Onan “spilling his seed upon the ground” seriously, thus our
teachings on coitus interruptus, artificial birth control & other abuses of the sexual organs.

There are MANY other instances in which many Protestant congregations calling themselves Christians have “circumvented” certain Scriptural teachings. I know that it will not make the OP.'s Father happy to hear this…but to say that the word “Christian” equates to the word “Catholic”…just isn’t correct. This is what we mean when we say the “fullness of the faith”.

I’ve never met a Baptist who did not define himself as one. Heck, most of the time they will tell you if they are Southern, Free Will, or whatever other nuance to which they adhere.

The whole Christian label tends to come from the proliferation of non-denominational (often but not always evangelical, and non-affiliated) churches in the past 20 years or so. People who belong to a specific Protestant denomination tend to be quite proud of it.

I highly recommend that you get a copy of the Essential Catholic Survival Guide. This is a wonderful, handy book that will answer virtually all of your questions, as well as give you answers to your father and all others who may ask. It is put together by Catholic Answers and it is available here:


Unless you are enrolled in an exceptionally complete and orthodox RCIA program, you will need this. Even better, with a copy in hand, you will have 24/7 access to the truth about the Christian faith.

As was noted by another poster the important point is the history of the name Catholic being applied to Christians:

Some of the first “names” applied to Christians were “The Way” and “Nazarenes.” Later the name Catholic was given as is evidenced by Ignatius of Antioch in 108 AD where he says:

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (Ignatius of Antioch. Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 8)

Your father is just missing basic early church and Patristic historical information.

\One major thing that I keep getting bombarded with is, “Why the need to be called ‘Catholic’? Why can’t Catholics just call themselves Christians. Are they Catholics first and Christians second?”\

**Repeat EXACTLY what he says, but substitute “Baptist” for Catholic, and maybe he’ll see how it sounds.

You can also say, “Catholic is simply a label we wear so others can find us. Our name to ourselves is the Church of Christ.”**

Repeat EXACTLY what he says, but substitute “Baptist” for Catholic, and maybe he’ll see how it sounds.

As it was already stated by someone else, maybe in some areas of the world it would apply.

But where I come from, most Christians just identify as Christians and don’t insist on specifying a denomination; this is likely why it sounds like a “different religion” to him.

I see what you’re saying, but if you get an Episcopalian, a Baptist, and a Presbyterian together and start talking about doctrine, you find out that they are not all on the same page, and will disagree vehemently on very critical areas of Christian life and Church teaching on areas such as: Baptism for infants, church governance, eschatology, predestination, worship, etc… People like to think they are all generic Christian, but, in reality, they have a kaleidoscope of doctrines.

The reality is that there is only one truth, and Christ came to earth to teach us that truth. That truth has been here from the beginning, was here in the 500’s, the 800’s, the 1200’s, and today. It is something that we can know, now, with certainty because the same Church that was here in 800AD is still here teaching the same things on Baptism of infants, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrificial priesthood, Marian doctrines, Primacy of the successor to St. Peter in Church governance, etc…

These things are not incidentals - they are key to the whole truth Christ gave us. To minimize these things is to minimize the truth.

When people are talking about what divides us, they tend to approach it from a point of view that says, “What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.” Instead of that, they should be saying, “Is this true?” The problem is that, if you are convinced of the truth, and it is not in line with your denominational creed, then you must either act on your new convictions or stifle them and stay where you are. Either way, there’s conflict on a personal level. So, it’s easier just to focus on what unites rather than what divides.

Sorry for the rant, but I think the whole “We’re all christians” is a smokescreen for avoiding real issues.

I used to be a Baptist minister, so I know a lot about Baptist history. Here’s a good qoute from H. Leon McBeth, retired professor of Church History, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, in his booklet titled “Baptist Beginnings”:

"Our best historical evidence says that Baptists came into existence in England in the early seventeenth century. They apparently emerged out of the Puritan-Separatist movement in the Church of England…

“Some have so emphasized the sense of continuity from Bible times that they find it difficult to face up to historical facts about Baptist origins. Some have even erected elaborate schemes, or ‘Trails of Blood,’ seeking to trace Baptists through all the centuries from Christ to the present. These theories are based upon assumptions, unreliable or nonexistent historical data,…”

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.