It has been requested that I write a post summarizing the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. Who can do such a thing? The differences are far too many and varied to summarize them all. Heck, the differences between some Protestant denominations can be too many and varied to summarize. I will, however, discuss at least some of the biggest differences.
The biggest difference between Catholicism and Protestantism is authority. Protestants believe in a concept called sola scriptura (Scripture alone). They use only Scripture to determine what to believe (faith) and how to live (morals). There are several problems with sola scriptura.
In Matthew 16 Jesus says He will establish a Church, and that this Church will be established on the rock of St. Peter. He then gives Peter the powers of binding and loosing, and the keys to the kingdom. Later, in Matthew 18, the rest of the Apostles receive the powers of binding and loosing, but Peter received them first. Also, in Matthew 18, Jesus is clear that issues of doctrine are to be determined by the hierarchy. That is why those not abiding the Church’s decision are to be “as the publican and tax collector”. This is the equivalent of saying that those disagreeing with official decisions of the hierarchy on matters of faith and morals are to be treated as heretics.
Nowhere does Scripture say that it alone is the authority. Actually, it says just the opposite. (See 2 Tm. 1:13; 1 Cor. 11:23; Mk. 15:16; 2 Th. 2:14.) In fact, the Gospel was originally transmitted orally. Jesus Himself never indicated that anything He said or did should be written down. The emphasis is always on oral transmission. Even the Protestant scholar, J.N.D. Kelly, admits this in his work “Early Christian Doctrines”.
Another problem with sola scriptura is that it has led to the belief that any baptized Christian can authoritatively interpret Scripture for himself. If this is the case, then what Protestantism has effectively done is to depose one pope, and replace him with millions of popes. In Protestantism each person is his or her own pope! So when a Protestant says they believe what the Bible says the appropriate response is, “According to who?”
God did not establish us as our own authority. Nowhere in Scripture is it indicated that every Christian is allowed to interpret Scripture authoritatively for himself. The Church is the Body of Christ. Like a body it has many different parts with different functions. We can not all rule the Church, for when everyone rules, no one does. Scripture gives credence to the idea of the Church being the sole authoritative and infallible interpreter of Scripture in Mt. 18:17; 23:2; 1 Jn. 4:6; 1 Tm. 3:15.
Finally, sola scriptura doesn’t make historical sense. Both J.N.D. Kelly (Early Christian Doctrines) and Henry GrahamGraham (Our Debt to Catholicism) attest that the Catholic Church is the compiler of Sacred Scripture. If sola scriptura were true, then Church could not have existed until the Bible was compiled. The problem is that this did not happen until the late 4th century!
Another difference is that most Protestant denominations only recognize two sacraments. The Catholic Church recognizes seven. The argument is that Jesus only instituted two sacraments. I will not go over each sacrament here, as that would take far too long. There is a plethora of scriptural verses to back up the institution of all seven sacraments. Just a few are: Jn. 3:5 (water Baptism); Penance (Jn. 20:21-3); Confirmation (Jn. 14:16; Acts 8:14-7); Holy Eucharist (instituted by Christ at the Last Supper when He said, “Do this in memory of me”, and see John 6); Holy Matrimony (Eph. 5:32; Gn. 2:24; Mk. 10:6-9; Mt. 19:6; Lk. 16:18); Holy Orders (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24; Jn. 20:22; Acts 13:2); and Anointing of the Sick (Jm. 5:14; Mk. 6:12; Jn. 5:14). This list is nowhere near exhaustive.
I have recently discussed the differences in Catholic and Protestant theology regarding grace, so I won’t discuss that here. What I should mention is the difference between the Catholic and Protestant views on Holy Eucharist. Most Protestants believe that the bread and wine are mere symbols of Jesus’ body and blood. Not so with Catholics. We believe when a legitimately ordained priest recites the words of consecration over the bread and wine, they cease to be bread and wine. The accidents (color, weight, taste, shape, etc.) remain. The essence of bread and wine, however, cease. The bread and wine actually become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.
Martin Luther taught that the bread and wine were only the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ as long as the recipient believed they were. This was rejected by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent. The bread and wine are the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ when consecrated by legitimately ordained priest. This does not require anyone’s belief, because it is a fact. Nowhere does Jesus indicate the bread and wine were mere symbols, or only His body and blood if the Apostles believed it. He simply said, “This is…”
The Orthodox believe in consubstantiation, whereas the Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation. Essentially, the Orthodox believe in the Real Presence, but they believe the essence of bread and wine remain with the essence of Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity. This, too, has been rejected by the Church.
Many Protestants believe that faith alone saves (sola fides). The Catholic Church believes both faith and good works are necessary. Sure, St. Paul says faith saves apart from “works of the law”, but this does not mean good works are not efficacious. St. Paul was referring to the Old Law. A look at the gospels reveals that Christ actually ordered good works to be performed. Furthermore, every reference to judgment in the New Testament reveals a judgment based on works. That isn’t to say faith is not considered. Faith plays a major role, but our faith must be lived. Hence, James 2 and Galatians 5:6 reference works being essential. Not to mention that 1 Cor. 13:13 places the virtue of love above faith. If faith alone saves, however, how could love be greater? Our faith working through is what saves.
There are many, many, many significant differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. I think this, however, will suffice as a decent summary. I think this also proves that the Catholic Church is, indeed, the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
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