Knowing when should church be capitalized is important for writers and even for simple church members. It seems trivial at first, but think about it. As Christians, we encounter and use this word quite often. It is intertwined with our Christian life.
Knowing more about the word “church,” even something specific like capitalization, will definitely serve us a great deal more than just satisfying our curiosity.
So, let’s take a look at instances where we should capitalize church.
It refers to a specific denomination.
When the word “church” is referring to a specific religious denomination, it becomes a proper noun. Proper nouns are a word or group of words serving as the name of a particular person, place, or thing.
In this case, we are referring to the proper name of a particular religious denomination and not just general references, an instance where “church” becomes a common noun.
Some examples of particular religious denominations include the Roman Catholic Church, the East Orthodox Church (officially the Orthodox Catholic Church), the Church of the East, etc.
The building is now occupied by a church of the East Orthodox Church.
It is part of an official name.
Maintaining the rule on proper nouns, we capitalize the word “church” when it is part of an official name. This is not limited to the name of a particular church (e.g. Free Will Baptist Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Orthodox Anglican Church, etc.).
You will also see “church” capitalized when referring to religious movements (e.g. Home Church or Simple Church movement), religious holidays, official names within a church (e.g. Church Council on Orderliness), and even the name of a specific book (e.g. Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus).
All these fall under the case of being a proper noun.
Though I was raised Catholic, I now go to church every Sunday at the Free Will Baptist Church.
It refers to the universal body of believers.
When the word “church” is used to refer to the universal body of believers, it should be capitalized. This goes for all churches whose members are regarded as a body of believers.
You may notice this when reading the publication of your church. When pertaining to members as a whole, you all can be called the “Church.”
The Church struggled during the pandemic, but their faith grows stronger every day.
It refers to the body of Christ Jesus.
A significant part of the Christian message is the teaching on how the Church is the body of Christ Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. This is clearly illustrated by Colossians 1:18 (New King James Version), where “He” is used to refer to Christ:
And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
Now, capitalizing church to refer to the body of Christ is not universally accepted. As you can see from the verse above, “church” is not capitalized. This can vary from one church to another, as it sometimes is with religious terms.
Some religions, although believing this important Christian message, do not see the need to capitalize the word “church” in this context. Other religions regard this matter with utmost importance, where “Church” (as the body of Christ) is a holy name that must be capitalized at all times.
With that said, it is important to ask within the religious group you are a member of regarding this.
The Church that Christ built will not be overpowered by the gates of death.
When is “church” not capitalized?
The instances we have discussed show clearly when to capitalize “church.” Another basic instance is when this word is used as the first word of a sentence, as it is with all words. However, are there cases where this word should not be capitalized?
The obvious answer is when “church” is used as a common noun. Apart from this, we should also not capitalize this term when referring to the early church in the scripture.
Why is capitalization important?
From a writer’s perspective, capital letters provide readers with useful signals,allowing the writer to communicate that certain words are of importance.
From a Christian’s perspective, the ability to communicate importance just by using capitalization should be deemed useful.
Take “God” for example. Those that do not believe in a supreme being may not capitalize “God.” Meanwhile, as religious people, it can feel blasphemous to not capitalize “God.” Though capitalization seems trivial, we can see here how it can be a way to communicate belief.
Similarly, those that do not see the Bible as anything important may not capitalize the word. Meanwhile, Old Testament and New Testament will often be capitalized even by those that do not believe or have no knowledge regarding the Bible.
A neutral religious term like gospel can vary from one religious group to the other, where some choose to lowercase gospel rather than capitalize gospel.
The same can be said with “Holy Spirit.” Often, this pertains to God or in relation to God’s divinity and will be found capitalized in many religious groups but not in others.
Knowing when to capitalize “church” and other religious terms or words can seem like such a niche piece of knowledge to have. However, it is one of those things that is good for us to know than be ignorant of.
While you’re here, do have a look at our previous post.