The non-Catholics contested that the Church must be named Church of Christ because it was Christ who founded it or Church of God because it was God who founded it through Christ. These sects even use biblical verses to support their claims. However, the question is: Did Christ really name His Church?
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew (16:18), it says: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Notice that in the passage, Christ never mentioned that the Church that He is going to build would be named Church of Christ or Church of God. The truth is: Christ never gave an official name to His Church. But, should Christ name His Church, in the first place? Of course not.
When our Lord established the Church, there was no need for Him to name it because there was only one Church that was founded. Naming the Church would make it denominational. But, how about the church of Christ and church of God?
Those terms are not proper names. They are common names used by the early Christians referring to the Church. The use of the clauses of Christ and of God is not an indication of a proper name. Those are only possessive terms describing the character of the church or its purposes or relationships. Remember that the church is a called-out body or assembly of people. Thus, it is the people who are called by the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14) out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9 ) into the fellowship with Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9) to receive eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).
If the terms church of Christ or church of God are names, then they are both unscriptural and ungrammatical not to capitalize the letter C in the word Church. Hence, not capitalizing C in Church is as wrong as not capitalizing C in Christian. It should follow then that just as the name Christian is capitalized, the name church of Christ/God should be capitalized (if they are indeed proper names). Then, why did God never name the church?
Logically and practically, there is no need to name anything if there is only one of it. If there were two or more, each would require a distinct name so as to distinguish one from the other. So, if there was only one Church at that time, Christ would absolutely never name it. If God did name the church, then it is a Church with many names since the New Testament Church has been known in different names ranging from church of God to little flock.
Moreover, if the church has an official name, so it must only be the same name to be used in all documents to indicate its official identity. Evidently, the church in the Bible was called not just in one term but many terms. How can there be an official name if there were many terms used?! It won’t make any sense.
Nevertheless, despite the existence of different terms used to refer to the one true Church, there were no hundreds of different denomination each with their own doctrine during the time of the apostles, but there was undoubtedly one unified church, that is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. In a letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul said: “He … gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body” (1:22-23).
Below are the common names used to refer the Church in the Bible:
⚫ THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST — the church is referred to by this term several times in various ways: one body (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-13, 20; Ephesians 2:16; 4:4; Colossians 3:15), the body (1 Corinthians 12:14-16, 18, 19; 22-25; Ephesians 4:16; 5:23), “the whole body” (1 Corinthians 12:17; Ephesians 4:16), “his body” (Ephesians 1:23; 5:30), “same body” (Ephesians 3:6), “the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18), “his body’s sake, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24), and “all the body” (Colossians 2:19). The body of Christ is called “the church of God” (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:15) and the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15). It is so-called because it belongs to God. Even as Christ belongs to God, so His church would also be God’s (1 Corinthians 3:21-23; 11:3). The body of Christ is called “the church” in many passages (Matthew 18:17; Acts 2:47; 5:11; 8:1-5; 12:1-5; Ephesians 1:22; 5:23-32; Colossians 1:18, 24). The body of Christ is also called “the church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23), because it belongs to Christ, Who is “the firstborn of every creature . . . the first-begotten of the dead . . . the firstborn among many brethren” (Colossians 1:1518; Romans 8:29; Revelations 1:5). It is also called “the general assembly” (Hebrews 12:23). This term refers to the redeemed of all ages who will inhabit the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which is called “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Revelations 21:9-10).
⚫ THE CHURCH AS THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD AMONG MEN — it speaks of the church as follows: “the house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), “the house” (Matthew 10:25; 2 Timothy 2:20-24; Hebrews 3:6) “an habitation of God” (Ephesians 2:22), “an holy temple” (Ephesians 2:21), “a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5), “the building” (Ephesians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 3:9), “God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9), “lively stones” (1 Peter 2:5), “the temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16), “the temple of the Loving God” (2 Corinthians 6:16), and the “house” of Christ (Hebrews 3:6).
⚫ THE CHURCH AS THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD — it speaks of the church as “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19), “the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), “children of God” (Matthew 5:9), “the children of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38), “firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18), “sons of God” and part of “the whole family” of God (Romans 8:14; 1 John 3:1; Ephesians 3:15), “the elect of God” (Romans 8:33; Titus 1:1), “the called of God” (Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 1:9, 24-26; Ephesians 4:1-4; Colossians 3:15), “a chosen generation” (1 Peter 2:9), “the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2-3), “the flock” (Matthew 26:31; Luke 12:32; Acts 20:28-29), “one fold” (John 10:16), “the sheep” (Matthew 26:31; John 10:1-18; 26-27; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25), and “my lambs” (John 21:15).
⚫ THE CHURCH AFTER ITS LOCATION — Local churches are referred to as “the church” in a certain locality (Acts 11:22-26; 13:1; 14:27; James 5:14). Many local churches are mentioned in Scripture: “the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2), “the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1), “the church that is at Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13) “the church of Ephesus” (Revelations 2:1), “the church in Smyrna” (Revelations 2:8), “the church in Pergamos” (Revelations 2:12), “the church in Thyatira” (Revelations 2:18), “the church in Sardis” (Revelations 3:1), “the church in Philadelphia” (Revelations 3:7), and “the church of the Laodiceans” (Colossians 4:16; Revelations 3:14). Universal terms are used of all local churches such as “the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:4), “the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:16), “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), “the churches” (Acts 9:31; 15:41; 16:5; 19:37; 1 Corinthians 14:34; 2 Corinthians 9:19-24; Revelations 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13,22; 22:16), “all churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17; 2 Corinthians 8:18; 11:28), and “all churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Sectional churches are referred to such as “the churches of Galatia” (1 Corinthians 16:1; Galatians 1:2), “the churches of Asia” (1 Corinthians 16:19), “the churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1), “other churches” (2 Corinthians 11:8; 12:13), “the churches of Judea” (Galatians 1:22), and “the seven churches which are in Asia” (Revelations 1:4, 11, 20).
IF THE CHURCH never got an official name; but, how about the Catholic Church?
The Catholic Church was never referred to be the official name of the Church. It was a term used to describe the very character of the church as universal (Mark 11:17), a fulfillment of the prophecy of old: “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote: “Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [i.e., a presbyter]. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2 [A.D. 107]). Note that in this letter, he referred the church as Catholic, but not as an official name. The term catholic was used to describe the unique characteristic of the church, a church which is present not just in Palestine but throughout the world. From then on, it became customary for the Christians to attach the term catholic when referring to the Church.
The Church gradually became known to its present title as Catholic and Apostolic when heretics and apostates started to build their own churches. To distinguish the true Church from false churches, St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, testified:
“We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church, which is catholic and which is called catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies. For when heretics or the adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with strangers, willy-nilly they call her nothing else but Catholic. For they will not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name which the whole world employs in her regard” (The True Religion 7:12 [A.D. 390]).
“And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 4:5 [A.D. 397]).
BY THE WAY, it is proper to call the Church as the Catholic Church rather than Roman Catholic Church for the latter is used only to refer to the church of Rome and all Latin-Rite particular churches (in fairness to the Eastern Catholic churches) and was originated only in AD 1595-1605 as an insult created by Anglicans who wished to refer to themselves as Catholic. They thus coined the term Roman Catholic to distinguish those in union with the Church of Rome from themselves and to create a sense in which they could refer to themselves as Catholics (by attempting to deprive actual Catholics to the right to the term).
On the other hand, in a more agressive move, the anti-Catholics like the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) would also argue that it was only in AD 1870 that the Holy Catholic Church, through the First Vatican Council, got her official name, that is The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, indicating that it was never known in early Christianity. Below is the referrence they used for this allegation:
Yet, as a response, below are the citations from renowned secular historians:
NOTE that the historians affirmed that the Council Fathers only unanimously approved to change the order of the words and never unanimously decided upon the official name. The Holy Church got that name (One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church) since the earliest days of Christian faith. In fact, in the articles of faith outlined in the Nicene Creed (AD 324), it is professed: “I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church . . .” In addition to this, it is nowhere to be found in any of the Vatican I dogmatic documents that the Church’s official name was ever promulgated.
Therefore, it is certain that the eternal Church founded by Christ is none other than the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Indeed, those who claim that their church is the true church because its name is written in the Bible are advocates of falsehood and lies. Remember that borrowing names from the Sacred Scripture won’t make them authentic and original. The true Church is the one who produced the Holy Bible. The truth is:
The Holy Bible came from the Church and not the Church from the Holy Bible.