What is the difference between Catholic and Protestant?
This is simple question that has a long history spanning over the last 2000 years. As such, I will give the reader the answer in multiple stages. First we have definitions, because one issue with those in the Church today is that we can use our “Churchy” language and throw out words that non-believers or those not well versed in Church history have a hard time understanding, or because of culture, definitions have skewed from their original meanings.
|catholic (little c)||The universal teachings of Christ that appeared in the early Church. **This has nothing to do with the Catholic faith|
|Catholic||The Catholic faith, Catholicism.
**Generally referring to Roman Catholicism.
|church||The local body of believers (a congregation)|
|Church (big C)||The universal Church, aka all believers, past, present, and future. The church as a whole.|
|denominations||Refers to the many branches of theology and their churches that come from Protestantism. **Sects or cults of Christianity are NOT denominations (ex. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Science, Prosperity Gospel, etc…)|
|inerrancy||Without fault or error, only contains Truth (refers to the Bible)|
|infallible||Without fault or error, only contains Truth (refers to people e.g God). When talked about humans, it means that humans are elevated to be equal to God.|
|prayer||Is a form of worship. When you talk to God (Praise Him, Ask for Help, Thankful for what He has done). When you pray to humans, you are elevating them to be equal to God.|
|Protestant||Those that do not believe in the Catholic Church’s teachings.
**In this paper, I will describe “Protestant” in a general sense as “Reformers” since there are many denominations of Protestants.
|repentance||Continual choice to turn to God and submit to Him (usually daily)|
|Salvific||Pertaining to or leading to Salvation.|
|Scriptures||Means the same thing as the Bible, the Holy inspired Word of God.|
|theology||The ideas, beliefs, and concepts that make up a belief system. Usually refers to Reformed Theology since the Protestant Reformation.|
II. Background: What does it mean to be a Christian?
If you haven’t read it already, check out my “What is a Christian?” article and even my Series 1 questions in these links below to get a good idea of what the term “Christian” actually means and what some people think it means today, in addition to the common misconception of “Am I good enough to go to Heaven?”
- (Basics) What is a Christian?
- (Series 1, Part 1) Are we good enough for God?
- (Series 1, Part 1 Sidenote) God’s Heart and Our Heart (v2)
- (Series 1, Part 2) Who is Jesus?
- (Series 1, Part 3) Does Jesus just want us to live a good life?
- (Series 1, Addendum) Not Good Enough and Self-Esteem
In Christianity there are a set of basic Truths that must be believed in order to be follower of Christ, but outside of those, there are also varying degrees of many, many other issues that are debatable in Christ’s church. Unfortunately, there is not a unified list of what all these issues are and where they fall on a believer’s spectrum as they are debatable (except for the basic Truths). Here I will try to categorize as many issues as I can into only 5 groups. The original idea was based off a sermon by Pastor Noel Heikkinen at Riverview Church in Michigan about Open vs. Closed-Handed Issues. Salvific is defined by Pastor Noel is “pertaining to or leading to Salvation.” (Source). I then expanded upon his examples and tried to more clearly define what each category means, as well as add more examples.
1) Closed-Handed issues. Required to be a Christian. Entirely Salvific. Not Debatable.
(A person MUST believe these in order to be a Christian)
|Only Jesus saves||John 14:6, Acts 4:12, 1 Tim 2:5, John 3:36, Rom 10:9, John 3:16-18, John 8:24, Matt 10:32-33|
|One God||Deu 6:4, Isa 44:6, Isa 43:10-11, Isa 42:8, James 2:19, Rev 1:8|
|Trinity (Only one God, three persons)||Gen 1:26, Matt 3:16-17, John 1:1-18, Col 1:15, Matt 28:19, John 10:30, 2 Cor 13:14, 1 Cor 8:6, John 14:26, Jude 1:25, Acts 2:38|
|Literal Hell||Matthew 25:41&46, Rev 20:14-15, Rev 21:8, Matt 10:28, Mark 9:43-48, 2 Thes 1:9, John 3:18, Psalm 145:20, Dan 12:2, Isa 38:18|
|Jesus lived a sinless life||1 Peter 2:22, Heb 4:15, 2 Cor 5:21, 1 John 3:5, 1 Peter 1:19, James 1:13, Romans 5:12-21|
|Jesus literally rose from the dead||Luke 24:1-53, Acts 1:1-11, 1 Cor 15:1-58, 1 Peter 1:3, Romans 6:4, John 11:25|
|Jesus is God||Refer to “Trinity”. John 10:30, Heb 13:8, Rev 4:8. Isa 7:14, Gen 3:15, Gen 49:10, Dan 9:24-26, Isa 11:1-10, Isa 42:1-9, Isa 53:1-12, Dan 7:9-14, Ps 22:1-31|
|Saved by grace not works||Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10|
2) Important issues that are clear in Scripture, but NOT required for Salvation. Mostly Salvific.
(They’re not “agree to disagree”, but also not the most important.)
|Is Hell eternal?||Yes. Clear in Scripture. Not a Salvation issue.|
|Is Homosexuality a sin?||Yes. Clear in Scripture. Like any other sin, not a Salvation issue.|
|Can you lose your salvation?||No. Clear in Scripture. Not a Salvation issue.|
|Divorce except adultery/abandonment||No. Clear in Scripture. Not a Salvation issue.|
3) Agree to Disagree. Referenced in Scripture, but not entirely clear. Somewhat Salvific.
|Charismatic Issues (Healing, etc…)|
|Mode of Baptism? (Sprinkle or dunk)*||*Most agree it is by immersion by a person who is of age to give their life to Christ (not infants)|
|Women’s roles in the church?*||*Other than a pastor or elder, it’s up to the church. Refer to 1 Cor 14:34, Titus 2:3-5. Examples of female Deacons = Rom 16:1 & 1 Tim 3:11|
|Church governance model?*||*Most agree it should consist of a plurality of elders (a group/board of elders), all co-equal with voting power, and yet elect one of the elders as a “lead pastor” (de facto) for worship. The lead pastor has no power over the rest of the elders, all are co-equal, the pastor is the position to preach, teach, and lead with spiritual authority over their “flock”. This model ensures 2 things: (1) Mutual Accountability (weeds out personal conviction elevated to Biblical authority, and unrepentant sin), and (2) Allows for God-given diversity to better serve the congregation. Refer to Titus 1:5-9, 1 Tim 3:1-13, 1 Tim 5:17. Pastor as a spiritual gift = Eph 4:11, 1 Cor 12:7-11. Examples of plurality of elders = Acts 11:30, 14:23, 15:2-23, 20:17-18, Phil 1:1. Respect for elders = 1 Thes 5:12-13, Heb 13:7-17.|
4) “Junk Drawer”. Slightly Salvific . Referenced in Scripture, but not entirely clear. More liberty here.
|Evolution vs. Literal 6-Day Creation?||Not specified in Scripture. Either way, Jesus is sovereign|
|Literal Flood?||Leans more on literal flood, either way, Jesus is sovereign|
|Instruments in Church?||Your choice. Instruments were used in worship with David|
|What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?||Not specified in Scripture, that’s good since it applies to all|
|Can Christians drink alcohol?||Your choice. Drunkenness is a sin, but Jesus made wine|
5) Not Salvific at all. Stop fighting about these. Most debatable. Least important.
(Not talked about in Scripture)
|Coffee in auditorium?||Doesn’t matter|
|Is it an Auditorium or Sanctuary?||Doesn’t matter|
|Best Bible translation?||Your choice. Not specified in Scripture.|
|What politician would Jesus support?||Himself. Nonsense question.|
|Should a church have small groups?||Doesn’t matter, but helpful.|
III. What are the differences between Catholic and Protestant?
Here we will look at an easy-to-understand chart that shows what the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism are. The topics are ordered by “Rank”, with Rank 1 being the most serious and important differences — those that determine Gospel-centeredness or heresy, also called “closed-handed issues”. The scale used is the same for the Rank 1-5 Open & Closed-Handed Issues.
|God’s Word (Bible) Sola scriptura||Pope (infallible), tradition|
|Highest Human Authority||
|Local Church elders||Pope (infallible) (CCC 890, 891, 892)|
|Salvation and Good Works||
|Grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone (Rom 3:23, Rom 6:23, Eph 2:8-9). Good works are the result of Divine grace to do good, can be proof of sanctification (James 2:14-26), but are not worthy to save (Isa 64:6, Eph 2:8-9, Gal 2:21, Rom 3:9-31).||Saved by faith and works. (CCC 847), (CCC 1496), (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
Through baptism, keeping commandments (CCC 2068), penance, and sacraments in the Catholic church.
**See also this Link for an overview.
|“Once saved, always saved”. You cannot lose your salvation (when you are really saved) because your works, good or bad, do not factor into your salvation. Salvation is a gift from God alone. (John 6:37, Eph 2:8-10, ).||It is possible to lose your salvation because it is based in part on your good or bad works.
(CCC 1496) , (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 29)
|Tradition is nice, but God’s Word (Scripture) alone is the highest authority.||Tradition is equal in authority to God’s Word (Scripture).|
|View of Mary||
|A honorable and blessed woman whom God chose to give a virgin birth to Jesus to fulfill prophetic Scripture (Isaiah 7:14 and Matt 1:18-25, Luke 1:27). She is not to be exalted, prayed to (worshiped), our Mediator, or thought of as “sinless” because all of these things belong solely to Jesus (Rom 3:23, John 14:6, 1 John 3:5, Rev 19:10).||Mary is highly exalted. Assumption of Mary (CCC 966); “Advocate, Helper, Mediatrix” (CCC 969); Queen over all things (CCC 966); “All holy one” (CCC 2677); preserved from original sin (CCC 966); prayer is offered to Mary (CCC 971); second only to Jesus (Vatican Council II, p. 421); she crushed the head of the serpent (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus)|
|View of Saints||
|Saints are everyone who believes and gives their life to Jesus. They are not to be exalted, prayed to (worshiped), our Mediator, or thought of as “sinless” because all of these things belong solely to Jesus (Rom 3:23, John 14:6, 1 John 3:5, Rev 19:10).||Saints are special individuals who do not have to pass through purgatory and have been declared by the Roman Catholic Church to be holy. They can be prayed to (worshiped). (CCC 2683)|
|Scripture does not point to Purgatory as an option, only Heaven and Hell. A person who believes in Purgatory may also believe that they get a second chance and do not pursue Jesus in this life (possibility of throwing away Salvation).||Purgatory is a place of purification after a person dies where he achieves holiness so as to enter into the joy of heaven (CCC 1030).|
|Results of the Fall||
|Total (or Partial) Depravity||Corruption and tendency to sin|
|Books in the Bible||
|Rejects Apocrypha/Deuterocanocals||Accepts Apocrypha/Deuterocanocals|
|Remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross||The bread and wine (once blessed by a priest) become the actual body & blood of Jesus (aka transubstantiation)|
|(1) Common grace given to all in order to do good works
(2) Sufficient grace for salvation given to the elect only
|(1) Efficacious grace to do good works
(2) Prevenient grace to help people believe
|Baptism and Communion. They are physical representations of God’s work through us.||7 Holy Sacraments of Catholicism: Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick.|
|Celibacy is not required||Celibacy is required|
IV. Why are there differences and Why are there so many Protestant denominations?
More than 2000 years is a long time for many, many things to happen. Some of those things include scholars figuring out meanings from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, others include heresy filling the early church, disagreements with interpretations, etc… There are volumes of books written on Church History, differing beliefs, and the Protestant Reformation. Here are some books if you want to know more:
- The Story of Christianity – Justo L. Gonzalez
- Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
As for the many denominations of Christianity, all the Protestant denominations share the core beliefs (Rank 1), most share Secondary beliefs (Rank 2), but the real reason there are so many denominations is because of personal preferences when it comes to Rank 3 & Rank 4 beliefs (i.e. can instruments be played in worship?, should we live a life without modern conveniences?, church governance model?, etc…). To very oversimplify things, there are two main splits you need to worry about:
- The Great Schism of 1054 (Catholicism Split up -> Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church split)
- The Protestant Reformation of 1517 (Protestant Reformers split from Roman Catholicism)
Here is a timeline of most of these splits (Click to Enlarge):
Catholicism had the right idea when it came to a universal set of beliefs for the Christian faith (the idea behind the early catholic church). To be honest, I wish Christianity was established as a universal set of Christian beliefs – as long as they were the correct doctrinal beliefs, mind you. The problem was not the idea of the unified (catholic) church, the problem was the setup of the unified church, the beliefs which did not align with Scripture, the failure of Roman Catholic senior leadership to repent from heretical beliefs, and the most damning problem was asserting that a mere man had equal authority and power as Jesus Himself (the Pope and the Papacy). Another aspect that we must look at was that Roman Catholicism had a monopoly on written copies of Scripture, on theology and Gospel doctrine, and also at times committed atrocities while pretending to be Christian (Pope Urban VI’s murder of Joanna – Queen of Naples, orgies of Pope Alexander VI, homosexual and pedophilia activity even to this day, the Catholic Church helped Catholics in Nazi Germany escape but turned a blind eye to the Jews, etc…), all of which was to the detriment of living Godly lives. This caused the Reformers, Godly men and women, to protest the Catholic Church and reform the theology of the time to best worship, honor, and serve God with a focus on staying true to His Holy Word (the Bible) within cultural and historical context, and to let the common man have access to His Word. These were the main reasons the Protestant Reformation began in 1517, and continues to this day as Reformed Theology.
<Original work by BenBRockN. Feel free to reblog, ONLY if you give credit to the original author (me). Thanks!>