Category: Catholic vs. Protestant – why is there so much animosity?


First, please understand that I intend no offense in the wording of this question. I genuinely receive questions, from Catholics, along the lines of “What is the difference between Catholics and Christians?” In face-to-face conversations with Catholics, I have literally heard, “I am not a Christian, I am Catholic.” To many Catholics, the terms “Christian” and “Protestant” are synonymous. With all that said, the intent of this article is that Catholics would study what the Bible says about being a Christian and would perhaps consider that the Catholic faith is not the best representation of what the Bible describes. As a background, please read the article on “What is a Christian?”

A key distinction between Catholics and Christians is the view of the Bible. Catholics view the Bible as having equal authority with the Church and tradition. Christians view the Bible as the supreme authority for faith and practice. The question is, how does the Bible present itself? Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This text tells us that Scripture is not “just the beginning,” or “just the basics,” or the “foundation for a more complete church tradition.” On the contrary, Scripture is perfectly and fully sufficient for everything in the Christian life. Scripture can teach us, rebuke us, correct us, train us, and equip us. “Bible Christians” do not deny the value of church tradition. Rather, Christians uphold that for a church tradition to be valid, it must be based on the clear teaching of Scripture and must be in full agreement with Scripture. Catholic friend, study the Word of God for yourself. In God’s Word you will find God’s description of, and intention for, His Church. Second Timothy 2:15 declares, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

A second key difference between Catholics and Bible Christians is the understanding of how we can approach God. Catholics tend to approach God through intermediaries, such as Mary or the saints. Christians approach God directly, offering prayers to no one other than God Himself. The Bible proclaims that we ourselves can approach God’s throne of grace with boldness (Hebrews 4:16). The Bible is perfectly clear that God desires us to pray to Him, to have communication with Him, to ask Him for the things we need (Philippians 4:6; Matthew 7:7-8; 1 John 5:14-15). There is no need for mediators or intermediaries, as Christ is our one and only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and both Christ and the Holy Spirit are already interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:26-27; Hebrews 7:25). Catholic friend, God loves you intimately and has provided an open door to direct communication through Jesus.

The most crucial difference between Catholics and Bible Christians is on the issue of salvation. Catholics view salvation almost entirely as a process, while Christians view salvation as both a completed status and a process. Catholics see themselves as “being saved,” while Christians view themselves as “having been saved.” First Corinthians 1:2 says, “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.” The words “sanctified” and “holy” come from the same Greek root. This verse is declaring that Christians are both sanctified and called to be sanctified. The Bible presents salvation as a gift that is received the moment a person places faith in Jesus Christ as Savior (John 3:16). When a person receives Christ as Savior, he/she is justified (declared righteous – Romans 5:9), redeemed (rescued from slavery to sin – 1 Peter 1:18), reconciled (achieving peace with God – Romans 5:1), sanctified (set apart for God’s purposes – 1 Corinthians 6:11), and born again as a new creation (1 Peter 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Each of these is fully accomplished at the moment of salvation. Christians are then called to live out practically (called to be holy) what is already true positionally (sanctified).

The Catholic viewpoint is that salvation is received by faith, but then must be “maintained” by good works and participation in the Sacraments. Bible Christians do not deny the importance of good works or that Christ calls us to observe the ordinances in remembrance of Him and in obedience to Him. The difference is that Christians view these things as the result of salvation, not a requirement for salvation or a means of maintaining salvation. Salvation is an accomplished work, purchased by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:2). God offers us salvation and assurance of salvation because Jesus’ sacrifice was fully, completely, and perfectly sufficient. If we receive God’s precious gift of salvation, we can know that we are saved. First John 5:13 declares, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

We can know that we have eternal life, and we can have assurance of our salvation because of the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice does not need to be re-offered or re-presented. Hebrews 7:27 says, “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.” Hebrews 10:10 declares, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” First Peter 3:18 exclaims, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice was absolutely and perfectly sufficient. Jesus declared on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was the full payment for all of our sins (1 John 2:2). As a result, all of our sins are forgiven, and we are promised eternal life in heaven the moment we receive the gift God offers us – salvation through Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Catholic friend, do you desire this “so great salvation” (Hebrews 2:6)? If so, all you must do is receive it (John 1:12) through faith (Romans 5:1). God loves us and offers us salvation as a gift (John 3:16). If we receive His grace, by faith, we have salvation as our eternal possession (Ephesians 2:8-9). Once saved, nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing can remove us from His hand (John 10:28-29). If you desire this salvation, if you desire to have all your sins forgiven, if you desire to have assurance of salvation, if you desire direct access to the God who loves you – receive it, and it is yours. This is the salvation that Jesus died to provide and that God offers as a gift.

If you have received Jesus Christ as Savior, by faith, because of what you have read here today, please let us know by leaving a comment. Welcome to the family of God! Welcome, Catholic friend, to the Christian life!

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This is a simple question with a complicated answer, because there are varying degrees of, and reasons for, animosity between any two religious groups. This particular battle is rooted in history. Degrees of reaction have ranged from friendly disagreement (as reflected in the numerous ecumenical dialogues produced between the two groups), to outright persecution and murder of Protestants at the hands of Rome. Reformation teachings that identify the Pope as the Beast of Revelation and / or Roman Catholicism as Mystery Babylon are still common among Protestants. Clearly, anyone with this view is not going to “warm up” to Rome any time soon.

For the most part, today at least, the animosity comes from basic human nature when dealing with fundamental disagreement over eternal truths. Passions are sure to ignite in the more weighty matters of life, and one’s faith is (or at least should be) at the top of the heap. Many Protestants think Roman Catholics teach a works-gospel that cannot save, while Roman Catholics think Protestants teach easy-believism that requires nothing more than an emotional outburst brought on by manipulative preaching. Protestants blame Catholics for worshipping Mary, and Catholics think Protestants are apparently too dull to understand the distinctions Rome has made in this regard. These caricatures are often difficult to overcome.

Behind the particular disagreements over the role of faith and works, the sacraments, the canon of Scripture, the role of the priesthood, prayers to saints, and all the issues surrounding Mary and the Pope, etc., lies the biggest rift between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism: the issue of authority. How one answers the authority question will generally inform all the other issues. When it comes down to deciding a theological issue about defined Catholic dogma, there isn’t really much to discuss on the Catholic’s side because once Rome speaks, it is settled. This is a problem when trying to debate a Roman Catholic – reason and Scripture are not the Catholic’s final authority; they can always retreat into the “safe zone” of Roman Catholic authority.

Thus, many of the arguments between a Protestant and a Catholic will revolve around one’s “private interpretation” of Scripture as against the “official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.” Catholics claim to successfully avoid the legitimate problems of private interpretation by their reliance on their tradition. But this merely pushes the question back a step. The truth is that both Roman Catholics and Protestants must, in the end, rely upon their reasoning abilities (to choose their authority) and their interpretive skills (to understand what that authority teaches) in order to determine what they will believe. Protestants are simply more willing to admit that this is the case.

Both sides can also be fiercely loyal to their family’s faith or the church they grew up in without much thought to doctrinal arguments. Obviously, there are a lot of possible reasons for the division between Catholicism and Protestantism, and while we should not divide over secondary issues, both sides agree that we must divide when it comes to primary issues. Beyond that, we can agree to disagree and worship where we find ourselves most in agreement. When it comes to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the differences are just too great to ignore. However, that does not give license for caricatures or ignorant judgments – both sides need to be honest in their assessments and try not to go beyond what God has revealed.