Catholicism: Key Differences of Protestantism
Prepared and Presented by Marissa Williams, Youth Group Student Leader
For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been going through a series called “What’s the Difference?” And basically the point of this series is to show some of the more foundational differences between the beliefs that we share in the Christian faith and beliefs shared in other main faiths throughout the world. We’ve been going over Catholicism the past two weeks and Catholicism has A LOT of similarities to Protestantism which is what we teach here at EBC, so tonight we’re going to explain some of the key differences between the two.
Some of you might be wondering why it even matters to explore the beliefs of other faiths, but it really is super important and here’s why. How many of you have heard of the Great Commission? God calls us to witness to one another, to evangelize, and, to quote the passage in Matthew, “to make disciples of all the nations,” and when I say he calls us, I just want to make it very clear that this calling, any calling, but especially this calling, is not a suggestion, it’s a command; in fact the very word “commission” literally means “an instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people.” So in witnessing to other people, when we have a good idea of what other people believe and we can show that we’ve done our research, not only does it show that we really care about hearing the other person’s point of view, but it shows that we’re not just blindly believing in our own faith. And in not blindly believing, in having to think through our beliefs, it strengthens that faith and builds our confidence in Christianity.
But here’s an important disclaimer that I don’t want us to forget while going through this series: the beliefs that I’m going to tell you all about are beliefs that the Catholic Church teaches, and not every Catholic individual you meet is going to believe everything we talk about here. In other words, we’re not here to put a group of people into a box.
With that said let’s have a short history lesson. For a long time, the Church was simply the Church. There weren’t all these branches and denominations like there are today. Everyone was Catholic, and actually the word Catholic has both Greek and Latin roots that mean “universal.” But then there was this guy whose name was Martin Luther. (Not to be confused with Martin Luther King Jr. who lived about 400 years later.) Well, this Martin Luther initiated what’s known as the (Protestant) Reformation (1517) because he protested against the Catholic Church (for a number of reasons but the main one of indulgences and purgatory isn’t really a problem anymore). Basically since the government was pretty heavily involved with the church back then, different government officials ended up landing on different sides which led to a split in the church which led to Catholicism and Protestantism.
So now let’s talk differences. The most important belief that differs from our own is how we get to salvation. According to the Catholic Church, salvation takes many steps if you will. To be saved, not only would you have to believe, you’d have to be baptized, do good works, especially in an effort to cancel out past sins. You’d have to constantly remain in good standing with the Catholic church and participate in the sacraments, a few of which I will touch on in a moment. On the other hand, the Protestant church teaches that salvation comes through faith, through that belief alone. We see it in Ephesians 2:8-9 and honestly throughout the better part of Galatians I’d say. All of it makes it clear that salvation is independent of works. Romans 5:1 tells us that a person is justified by faith alone. Of course, true faith will lead to good works as we see in James 2 (especially verses 14-26); however, works are a fruit of faith and do not lead to salvation.
One of those sacraments that we’re going to talk about is baptism. Now baptism is a wonderful way of publicly announcing your faith in God but the Catholic church uses it very differently. They teach that it’s an act that has the power to save you in conjunction with the other sacraments and that it cleanses you from original sin which is the sin you were born with. Because they don’t see it as an announcement of faith, they will baptize infants which of course could not spring from the child’s faith and bring them into friendship with God in that way. And I kind of alluded to this but Protestantism teaches that baptism is NOT a saving act but it is a symbolic ceremony that indicates a person’s faith in Christ and even more importantly, demonstrates how we have to die to sin and be made new in Christ which is meant to point to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Another sacrament the Catholic church deems important is that of the Eucharist which is another word for Communion. They teach that the elements of the Lord’s Supper become the actual body and blood of Jesus after being blessed by a priest, and can therefore also be worshiped. They also teach that in participating in the Eucharist, or Mass, they are partaking in Christ’s sacrifice all over again in the present day. The Protestant Church says differently. Protestantism teaches that the Lord’s Supper is here to remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice, but that sacrifice was “once for all” as stated in Hebrews 10:14.
Now even though the teachings of Catholicism really try to emphasize things that YOU can do in life to contribute to the process of your own salvation if you will, there is yet another step: purgatory. Now purgatory is theoretically a place where you get purified from your sins, some place between Heaven and Hell. Only people who are “in friendship with God” will end up going to Purgatory if they don’t quite make it to heaven. The idea is, they’re saved, but for some reason they aren’t entirely free of forgivable faults or they haven’t fully paid the satisfaction required for their sins. It’s unclear how long a person stays in purgatory since they say that it depends on the circumstances which is why they pray for the souls of the dead. Now, the Protestant church, does not believe in the existence of Purgatory. We are taught that we are judged by our belief in Christ or lack thereof and go straight to Heaven or Hell as those are the only two options. We see this in John 5:24 where Jesus tells us that those who hear His word and believe will have eternal life or in other words, will go to Heaven. And we see the flip side of that statement in Revelation 21:8 where we are told that those who participate in various evils will in fact not be going to Heaven. The thing about purgatory is that there’s just not much biblical support for it. Which brings me to my next and final point.
The Catholic Church keeps extra books in the Bible that the Protestant Church doesn’t believe line up with Scripture. It’s actually from one of these books that the Catholic Church draws their evidence for purgatory; it comes from 2 Maccabees which has a passage that mentions being cleansed from your sins.
For further information, see this chart: Beliefs of the Catholic Church vs. Beliefs of the Protestant Church (specifically EBC)