Hello there my dear friends 🙂 In this post I would like to share with you a remarkable difference between Protestantism and Catholicism.
I have formerly written a post of the Difference between being Catholic and Christian. You can check that out if you’re interested.
As a former Protestant, and a deep believer in it, I am in a good position to speak about the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism.
Lots of differences
We could say there are many differences. We could say that Protestants believe in justification by faith alone, whereas Catholics believe in justification by faith and works of love.
We could say that Protestants deny the authority of the Pope and the Church, whereas Catholics accept both.
We could say that Protestants hold only to Scripture as infallible authority.
And there are many other differences, such as Mary, the saints, the Eucharist, etc.
We could talk about this all day.
But I have discovered one difference between Protestants and Catholics that I think most accurately expresses – for me anyway – the true difference. The essence of the difference between Protestants and Catholics is as follows.
P.S. I have run this viewpoint past two Catholic priests, who both agreed with the essential content of this post. If you find it useful, that’s all I could hope for.
The Essential Difference between Protestants and Catholics
A Protestant could in theory reject forensic justification by faith alone, reject sola scriptura, believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, believe in baptismal regeneration, and just about any other of the Catholic doctrines. They might even pray to Mary and have great respect for the Pope.
But effectively what really makes someone a Protestant more than anything else is that they are trying to follow Jesus Christ outside of sacramental communion with the Catholic Church. A Protestant ultimately is someone who does not believe in the Catholic Church, or of the necessity of being in the Catholic Church for the sake of their soul.
They are not in the Catholic Church, and therefore do not have access to the sacraments of Confirmation, Confession, the Eucharist and Healing. They haven’t yet come to that crucial point where they feel with all their heart that they desperately need access to the Church’s sacraments, that without being in the Church they cannot have the life of Christ and the life of the Spirit.
We might look at this in the opposite way. A Catholic may have real trouble believing all of the Church’s teachings. In fact, it is wholly to be expected that most Catholics will have trouble with the Church’s teachings, because the Church’s teachings are the truth, and sinners always struggle to believe the truth.
If many Catholics struggle to believe the Church’s teachings, this is merely a sign of lack of sanctification on the part of most Catholics. Indeed, just as Catholics battle sin daily and try to overcome this grave sin here and this grave sin there, so as Catholics we seek to purify our minds by continuing to walk with Christ in communion with his Church.
I would have thought that it is very normal for us to struggle with aspects of the Church’s teachings, which merely proves that we haven’t arrived yet to full sainthood. But this doesn’t mean we are not Catholic. And it certainly doesn’t mean we actually reject any of the Church’s teachings – far be it!
You see, for the Protestant, what makes a Protestant a good Protestant is that they passionately believe the correct things. The Catholic worldview is remarkably different here. What makes someone a Catholic more than anything else is that they merely continue to remain within the Catholic Church, come what may.
I mean, that’s it: come what may, we stay Catholic, we stay in the Church. That’s really, in essence, what being Catholic is all about.
A Catholic gives their assent to the Church and her teachings, whatever the difficulty in personally wholeheartedly believing them. Beliefs come secondarily to this, but by remaining in the Church and giving our consent that she can tell us what and what not to believe and do, our beliefs will improve and come more in line with the Church.
But the priority is to merely stay in Noah’s Ark, the Church, the Ark of Salvation.
I think this is a very overlooked difference between Protestants and Catholics. We simply do not think about Christianity the same way.
The Protestant Reformers
The Protestant Reformers did not think it was any big deal to leave the Catholic Church. They formed their own churches, and didn’t see any need for an apostolic hierarchy and an apostolic Church.
The Protestants didn’t see the need to be personally within that concrete, historic and apostolic Body that had journeyed from the 1st century to the 16th. They didn’t see the need for all of the Catholic sacraments.
For the Reformers and their followers, essentially the most important thing was the right message preached from the pulpit, and strong adherence to it. Personally and passionately believing a certain set of doctrines.
This is why Martin Luther said that the article of justification by faith alone was the single article of a standing or falling church, a viewpoint that (if I recall rightly) John Calvin agreed with.
Salvation was effectively reduced to endorsing the correct abstract ideas. Sadly it was assumed that this would be enough to see a poor sinner through the cross of this life to eternal joy. The Christian life became mainly a matter of one’s own subjective faith and relationship with God.
As a Protestant, what linked you with other believers was the mere fact you all believed the same things.
This is why the Protestants knew so many splits amongst themselves. It was such a massive deal when Luther, Calvin and Zwingli disagreed on the Eucharist that it meant they simply couldn’t be in communion and had to go their own separate ways. What mattered most was what set of abstract ideas one believes.
But Catholicism is different. For the Catholic, what matters most is whether you are in God’s apostolic Church or not. That is the starting point. Because if you are not, not only are you unlikely to be believing the right message, but ultimately, you are cut off from having any substantial access to the life of Christ. And nothing could be worse than that.
What it all boils down to
In a sense, Protestantism was essentially about believing in abstract ideas that may or may not have any real relation to reality, little different to endorsing this or that particular philosophy or worldview.
The Catholic notion is that salvation and Christianity is about the here and now: not, “What is your worldview?” but, “Are you linked into the bloodstream of Christ? Are you in his Body? Do you submit to the teachings of his Bishops in faith and morals?”
In this sense, the Protestant version of Christianity is really only a philosophy, whereas the Catholic version – nothing less than Christianity in full colour – is reality and life, and in no way a set of abstract ideas, but a real, living Faith.
I always find it a curious matter that at the time of the Protestant Reformation many Catholics agreed with many of the Reformer’s points. But when push came to shove, for plenty of Catholics the Protestants were simply asking the impossible in compelling them to leave the Catholic Church and join Protestant churches.
Many Catholics would have simply felt, ‘Though I agree with much of what you say, if I leave the Church I cannot find life outside of her. I will lose Christ, lose my soul and lose my faith.’