ASK BOB: What’s the Difference Between Catholics and Protestants?

Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.

QUESTION

Mr. Russell,

I just transferred from a Christian school to a public school and I am loving the friends I have made at my new school. I attend a Christian Church but one of my closest friends is Catholic and I want to know the difference in what they believe versus what we believe. Do they go to heaven like us?

MY ANSWER
This is a good question for us to consider since this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

The basic difference between the Catholic Church and Protestant churches has to do with the source of authority. The Catholic Church contends that both the Bible and the Church can speak for God. Catholic Church tradition, the Pope speaking Ex Cathedra (with the full authority of office) and the votes of Vatican Councils all are regarded as equal to the authority of Scripture and can sometimes even supersede Scripture.

In 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk, initiated the effort to reform the church of the Dark Ages by posting his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther protested against the belief that the church spoke for God and introduced the principle of “Sola.Scriptura,” insisting the Scriptures alone provide the rule of faith and practice for believers.

So while Protestants agree with the Catholic Church on basic Bible teachings like the virgin birth, the atoning death and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, we disagree on teachings that were initiated by the church and not based on Scripture. For example we take issue with the unbiblical dogmas of: praying to Mary, Christians spending time in purgatory to pay for their sins, confessing our sins to priests, transubstantiation (the communion elements becoming the literal body and blood of Jesus in mass), the authority of the pope and other doctrines not taught in the Bible.

God alone determines who is saved and who is lost. We are taught in Scripture that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9) and whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). While the Catholic Church has traditionally taught that only those who are a part of the Catholic Church will be saved, the Bible makes it clear that it is not our denominational affiliation that determines salvation but our trust in and obedience to Jesus Christ.

Romans 10:9 promises, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” I believe that promise applies to anyone, regardless of their church membership.

– Bob

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