What is the Difference between Catholics and Protestants?
There are several critical differences between Catholics and Protestants. Many of these differences partly caused the emergence of the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther more than 500 years ago.
Below is a brief summary of some of the major differences between Roman Catholics and Protestant Christians:
1. THE SCRIPTURES
One of the major differences between Catholicism and Christianity is the issue regarding the authority, inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.
Protestant Christianity believes in the 66 books of the Bible which consist of 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament.
Protestant Christians believe that the Bible, consisting of its 66 books is the final authority and inspired revelation from God which equips mankind for godliness and the knowledge of salvation from sin.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
However Roman Catholic tradition does not believe in the sole sufficiency and authority of the 66 books of the Bible. Instead Roman Catholic Bibles consist of 73 books compared to the Protestant 66 books.
Roman Catholic Bibles have 7 additional books in the Old Testament than Protestant Bibles. These additional books are referred to as the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books.
The 7 added books in the Roman Catholic Bible are: Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach, First Maccabees, and Second Maccabees, as well as additional verses of Daniel and Esther.
Therefore Protestant Christians believe in sola scriptura or Scripture Alone as being sufficient to guide Christian behavior and living, while Catholicism rejects the sufficiency and authority of the 66 books of Bible.
2. MEDIATORS / INTERMEDIARIES
Another major difference between Catholic tradition and Christianity is the issue of how God should be approached.
Roman Catholics have several mediators through whom they approach God, such a Mary and various Catholic saints.
Furthermore in relation to confession of sins, a Roman Catholic priest can act as an intermediary between God and the confessor.
In contrast Protestant Christians declare Jesus Christ as the only Mediator between God and man based on the teachings of Scripture.
For example: 1 Timothy 2:5 says: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
In John 14:6 Jesus Himself said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Therefore Protestant Christians believe that all prayer must be directed to God alone.
Protestant Christians believe that we are all sinners and we can only be saved from sin through placing our faith in Jesus Christ alone. We are saved through faith and not by our own works or personal effort. Therefore Protestant Christians believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone and in Christ alone.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Protestant Christians also believe in the sufficiency of the finished work that Jesus completed on the cross. Therefore on the basis of faith in Christ alone, believers are justified by God, as all their sins are paid for by Christ on the cross and His righteousness is imputed to them.
Galatians 2:16 says: Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
In contrast Catholicism teaches that salvation is through grace plus works, including adherence to various Catholic doctrines and tradition. For example, Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation includes performing works such as water baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist amongst other traditions and sacraments.
Therefore Catholicism does not entirely subscribe to the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Instead they believe that a person must also faithfully fulfill various Catholic traditions in order to be saved.
The Catholic Church does not only believe in heaven or hell as the only places people will enter after they die.
Instead Roman Catholicism teaches the doctrine of purgatory. In accordance with Catholic teaching purgatory is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace , are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.
Therefore according to Catholic doctrine, through purgatory, it is possible for a person to pay for their own sins or transgressions after that person has died.
To Catholics, purgatory is a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven.
In contrast to Catholic doctrine, The Bible does not mention a place called purgatory. According to the scriptures, there are only 2 places that a person can either enter when he/she dies. A person can either go to Heaven or that person can either enter a place called hell.
Matthew 25:46 says: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
2 Corinthians 5:8 says: “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord”
5. OFFICE & AUTHORITY OF THE POPE
According to Catholicism the Pope acts as the Head of the Church and therefore is a direct successor to Jesus Christ and the Apostle Peter whom the Catholic Church believes to be the first Pope.
As such Catholics believe that the Pope is infallible or cannot be wrong on all matters related to religion and Catholic doctrine. Therefore the Pope’s teachings and judgments on religion and spiritual issues cannot be challenged or opposed even if he speaks in contrast to Biblical teachings.
In contrast, Protestant Christians believe in the final authority of the word of God as necessary to believe and obey the will of God. Therefore all issues that pertain to life and spiritual matters must be viewed through the lens of the Scriptures and not through the teachings of man, including the teachings of the Pope.
Protestant Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Head of the one true Church and it is Jesus Christ who is the Builder of His Church.
Colossians 1:18 says: “And He (Christ) is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.”
Therefore with the Bible being the inerrant word of God and Jesus being the Head of the Church, Protestant Christians believe that God and His word are the only infallible foundations for the Christian faith.
The above are just but a few reasons why there are many differences between Catholicism and Protestant Christianity.
THE TRADITION OF MEN versus THE BIBLE
It is important to note that even during Christ’s ministry, Jesus would encounter situations where religious leaders would either add, subtract or replace the Scriptures with new doctrines that suited their own personal views, ideas and agendas.
The tradition of men is one of the reasons why there is a theological difference between Catholicism and Protestant Christianity.
Therefore it is an issue of Biblical Christianity versus Cultural Christianity where the doctrines of man compete with the word of God.
Furthermore, even within the Protestant movement itself – the reason why there are so many denominations within Protestantism is because of the traditions of men and man-made doctrines which contradict the written word of God.
Therefore if we have to choose between the doctrine of men and the word of God, then we must choose God.
If we must choose between obeying the traditions of men and the word of God, then we must choose to obey God.
Galatians 1:9-10 says: As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
In Matthew 15:3 Jesus says: “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
2 Timothy 4:3-4 says: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
In Galatians 1:6-8 the Apostle Paul says: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”
The only way we can discern right from wrong or truth from error is by studying the word of God.
The Bible is the standard for righteousness for all of mankind. It is through God’s word that we can avoid deception and believing a false gospel.