Apples and Oranges: Protestantism and Catholicism (Christianity and Catholicism)

Is there a difference? I read an article this morning that addressed this question, “What are the differences between “Protestantism” and “Roman Catholicism.” The question was poorly framed. The question should be framed along these lines, “What are the differences between Roman Catholicism and the Historic Christian Faith?” This is a sensitive matter, one that is increasingly lost on Christians and professing Christians today. Without getting overly technical and without delving into the excesses of certain unfortunate representatives of both religions during certain periods of history, I’ll try and briefly compare and contrast the differences in two posts.

First, let me address an outstanding issue that vexes both groups. How should Catholics and Protestants treat each other? The Apostle Peter encourages those who follow Christ to give an answer for the hope that lies within them with meekness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Even if Catholics and Protestants were the bitterest of enemies, both laying claim to being Christians, they would need to follow the teachings of God’s word:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45)

Both groups share similar social causes and concerns (theological causes): chiefly, the murder of the unborn and the assault on marriage in our culture. Still, significant, some would say eternal differences exist.  Let me give you a short list of the differences:

  1. The Understanding of the Church. Prior to Vatican II the position of Romanism was that Protestants were condemned for their heretical beliefs (The Council of Trent). According to Canon IX of the Council of Trent, all who believed in justification by faith alone, apart from works, were anathema, condemned, and outside the church:

CANON 9:  "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."


What does the Bible say? Here’s what the Bible says.

  • "because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin," (Rom. 3:20).

  • "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus," (Rom. 3:24).

  • "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law," (Rom. 3:28).

  • "For what does the Scripture say? 'ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," (Rom. 4:3).

  • "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," (Rom. 5:1).

  • "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God," (Eph. 2:8).

  • "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit," (Titus 3:5).

The views of the Council of Trent on this matter cannot be supported by the Scripture. Trent’s position was strongly held and publicly proclaimed. However, in the face of ‘membership loss’ and because most Catholics do not know what Romanism teaches, Vatican II softened the rhetoric (without retracting the condemnations of the Council of Trent). The Council of Trent remains in force today. Post Vatican II, those outside Romanism came to be described as “estranged brothers.” If they were justified by “faith in Baptism.” Protestants (Christians) do not believe that baptism has any saving qualities but is an outward indication (symbol) of an inward conversion:

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Peter 3:21-22).

The teachings of Trent (and the Catholic Catechism) would require that we nullify books like Ephesians, Romans, and John’s Gospel. Paul writes in Romans:

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:9-17)

The Council of Trent seeks to minimize salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Romans contradicts Trent.

Then there is the matter of ‘church membership.’ Access to the Church for the Catholic comes through a priest, acting in the role of Christ. In Christianity, becoming part of the Church comes to every born-again believer who puts their faith in Christ, there is no meritorious work or rite involved:

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)

The role of the Pope separates Christianity from Roman Catholicism. The Pope is considered infallible when he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair). Essentially, when he makes doctrinal pronouncements, he essentially (though they would not put it this way) he speaks Scripture in that he alters the tradition of the Roman church which understands tradition to trump Scripture. His pronouncements are inerrant and beyond contestation—and yet Popes have contradicted Popes, as have Councils (and Councils have contradicted Councils).

The matter of sacraments in Romanism is problematic. Romanism has 7, Christianity has two ordinances. Catholicism has the Eucharist, which resembles The Lord’s Supper, penance, holy orders, marriage, confirmation, and last rites. These, as they are explained in Catholicism are nowhere in the Bible as sacrament but part of the traditions of “the Church.” Christianity has two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s table.

What are ordinances? Below are three descriptions of an ordinance:

  1. It is not a sacrament (a church ritual that is thought to have saving values). The Bible clearly states that through Christ alone we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9, Acts 4:12, Titus 3:5).

  2. It is a command to be obeyed (i.e. “City ordinance”).

  3. The two church ordinances are visible enactments of the Gospel message that Christ lived, died, was raised form the dead, ascended to heaven, and will someday return.

How did we get ordinances? In the New Testament ordinances have three characteristics:

·      They were instituted by Christ.

·      They were taught by the apostles.

·      They were practiced by the early (New Testament) church.

They are reminders, symbols, that Christ died, that He rose, and that He will return. They have no power or saving quality in and of themselves. Christ refers to communion as a remembrance. He commands that we observe both—and His list does not extend to seven ordinances or sacraments.

II. The Understanding of the Scriptures. The Catholic Bible is “bigger.” Why is this? As part of the Counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent (indeed the Pope and all of Romanism) was faced with the task of justifying practices which were not found in the 66 books of the Bible (39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament). This included things like purgatory, penance, praying for the dead, and the treasury of merit. Consequently, they added what is now called the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is a ‘recent innovation’ for Catholicism.

The Vulgate and the Apocrypha.  Prior to Trent, Catholicism did not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture. When Jerome translated the Vulgate (the Bible in common language) in the fourth century, he explained to the pope that he had translated the Bible and another collection of books of interest. He was later encouraged (forced) to describe what we call the Apocrypha as equal to Scripture. However, the Apocrypha became canon (Scripture) after the Council of Trent, nearly 800 years later, in response to the Reformers.

The Apocrypha and the Old Testament. Interestingly, these Jewish writings, called the Apocrypha were and are not part of the Jewish Scriptures. The doctrines found in the Apocrypha contradicts the teachings of the Old and New Testaments. Here are a few samples.

  • Almsgiving (giving to the poor) saves—"For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life (Tobit 12:9).”

  • Praying for those who already died—O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, hear now the prayer of the dead of Israel, the children of those who sinned before you, who did not heed the voice of the Lord their God, so that calamities have clung to us (Baruch 3:4).

The Apocrypha was written during the years of prophetic silence between the Old and New Testaments. This is significant. It is also significant that Jesus never cites them as He does the Old Testament. Moreover, the Jewish people do not recognize them as Scripture and neither did the early church, during the time of the Apostles or afterward. No Council until Trent recognized them.

The authority of Scripture. In Christianity, the church derives its authority from the Scriptures. In Catholicism, the Scriptures derive their authority from the Roman Church and its Traditions. In fact, tradition is viewed of equal authority to the Scriptures. The Catechism states, “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”

The laity is not allowed to interpret the Scriptures for themselves. Prior to Vatican II, even reading the Bible was discouraged. After Vatican II, facing increasing pressure, the Roman Church encouraged reading yet discourages anyone below Bishop from interpreting the Scriptures for themselves as only the Pope and the Magisterium (Church Authorities), not even priests, are capable of interpretation:

The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching, office of the Church alone . . . to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

The issue of authority remains the largest “practical” divide between Protestants and Catholics.

The Bible teaches that even children may read, interpret and apply the Scriptures:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 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 complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Paul writing to Timothy, reminds Timothy how the Scriptures served to lead him to Christ even from Timothy’s childhood, then goes onto to tell him how the reading, interpretation, and application of God’s word is beneficial, profitable to every corner of his life.

In Acts, Luke comments on how the people of Berea were good students of the Scriptures. They were considered more noble due to their study and application of Scriptures in testing the teachings of an Apostle!

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12)

Imagine testing the teachings of the Pope or the Bishops—or the Apostles. Yet the Jews in Berea were described as more noble because they searched the Scriptures to test the teachings of the Apostle Paul. This is met with approval from the Scriptures.

David was wiser than his teachers because of his study and interpretation of the Bible. Writing in the Scriptures, David contradict the notion that people must look to Ecclesiastical authorities (experts) as the source of interpretation:

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. (Psalm 119:98-100)

How could David understand, interpret, meditate upon, and keep that which he lacked competency to interpret? In Psalm 119, David asks and answers the question about studying and applying the Bible: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word (Psalm 199:9).” The Christian and Catholic approach to the Scriptures is radically different.

What’s the big deal? Next week we take up other matters (salvation by faith plus works, salvation through baptism, etc.) and we see that there is a significant difference between the Gospel of Christianity and the Gospel of Christianity. This seems harsh. But our differences are serious. Writing to the Galatians as they attempted to re-adopt a works-based faith, Paul warns:

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:1-6)

Salvation does not come through faith plus… (anything: sacraments, penance, etc.) The Judaizers in Paul’s day agreed on much terminology but wanted to return the people to law keeping—like works, personified by circumcision. Paul vehemently fought against this. Perhaps that’s why Paul opened Galatians with these chilling words:

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— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 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. 9 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. (Galatians 1:6-9)

We do well to search the Scriptures to avoid the different gospel. Let’s be noble Bereans. Let’s test the teachings to see if such things are true. Until next week…

Keith Crosby