When I began to seriously study the book of Daniel following the celebration of the Protestant Reformation in 2017, I realised how important the differences really are between core Protestant Christian faith that Martin Luther and others stood for, in relation to then traditional Catholicism and the Papacy.
Although not immediately obvious, once you dig deeper you begin to see this more clearly. Also, how prophecies in Daniel can be interpreted through a classical Historicism perspective.
This is not necessarily about an individual’s stance, who can be a true born-again Christian no matter what denomination they are in; it’s more about the wider spiritual principles of that system which I understood more through the analogy of coffee shop baristas as per the post here.
Plus, this goes far deeper than historical differences and even warfare between these two positions, for example the issues in Northern Ireland where religious belief is probably the front-end of more complex power and country issues.
The Core Differences
Therefore, in an effort to appreciate the important faith differences between Catholics and Protestants, here are ten core ones that I now appreciate (there’s another on YouTube here).
Whilst the majority of these boil down to core doctrinal issues, some are more to do with the religious traditions and systems.
Also, these are basically my own notes on the whole subject, therefore quite brief in places, and with coming from a Protestant perspective then this is more of a summary of the contrasting Catholic views on matters.
1. The Basis of Salvation
This is the most important thing to realise; that core Protestant faith believes that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is the only way to receive salvation and forgiveness of our sins. However, Catholicism focuses on means to gain grace by various ways to reach that right standing with God.
It is this addition-to and alternative-means of salvation where the differences lie.
This was basically the reason for the Reformation over 500 years ago, where people like Martin Luther saw grace coming direct from faith in God and what He has accomplished through Christ (and as revealed in Scripture), rather than the church’s influence.
Going further, they then identified the Papcy as an anti-christ system. This was through an interpretation of various prophecies in the book of Daniel rather than just people’s opinions, something I began to see myself.
There is also a Treasury of Merit within Catholic theology which is like a bank of good works provided by Jesus, Mary, and canonical saints; and only the Catholic Church has access to these in order to apply them.
You can therefore sin one day but then confess to an appointed person afterwards and receive forgiveness, with the worst-case scenario being that you will be in purgatory for a while but eventually making it to heaven. Therefore, you can’t be saved outside the Catholic Church.
2. The Seven Sacraments
These are ways within Catholicism that provide the flow of grace to a person who earns it, issued through proper disposition, on the basis that these small bundles of grace can be issued piece-meal.
They are believed to be instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Catholic Church, with some requiring preparation by individuals:
This is for infants to remove original sin inherited from Adam and Eve, and although only a beginning of, this is still necessary for salvation and what is beleived to be born-again.
Reference is sometimes made to the household being baptised in Acts 8, however, there is no mention here of infants.
This is where people go to a Catholic Priest for confession of two types of sins.
Venial sins do not affect your salvation, but there is still a need to pay for these now, and in the next life and purgatory.
Mortal sins, however, can loose your salvation and grace, and are a grave violation of God’s law.
Forgiveness from Mortal sins then means being saved once again, whereas Venial ones just being washed clean.
Both types are confessed to a Priest who is dressed in purple, signifying royalty to receive forgiveness, with humility and acceptance being required by the individual receiving this that the church has the power to forgive these.
The emphasis is on scriptures like James 5:16 referring to confession to others, however, in balance the protestant view is that we are all priests with the ability to help each other in our walk of faith, and where we can only turn to Christ ourselves for true forgiveness.
The Priests also access the Treasury of Merit on your behalf via the Catholic Church, who then issue these to people.
The priest then issues instructions for people to follow afterwards, for example saying set prayers, declaring the Rosery, and even going on a pilgrimage.
3. Mass (or Eucharist)
This is not just the remembrance of Christ’s one-time sacrifice, but a belief in re-presenting Jesus’ sacrifice again and again at this event in order to appease God’s wrath, often referred to as Transubstantiation and Eucharist.
The equivalent for Protestantism is the Communion where the bread and wine are simply symbols.
Within Catholicism, this assumes to literally be the body and blood of Christ though the accidents and substance of something, which turns into these when the Priest (with the anointing) holds them. The bible verse John 6:35 is often referred to with the mention of Christ’s flesh being eaten.
This happens every Sunday and Holy Day of Ordination, and is the most important of sacraments which is essential for salvation.
It is arguably worshiping the bread and blood itself as the assumed literal body of Christ, stating that the church can only process this like a magical ritual, and that it is required multiple times in order to effect our salvation (the re-presentation and re-sacrifice of Christ).
In short, it is not only about what the bread and wine then do, but also what they also become.
As a doctrine, this has actually evolved over time, with post 1000 AD more about the worship of individual items.
Sometimes called the Sacrament of Christian maturity, or Chrismation.
The Catholic Bishop lays his hand on the head of an infant coming of age, in a form of dedication of them. This is not actually required for salvation, but more a means of grace.
Also, it’s important to choose a god parent at this point for spiritual support over time, and a saint as their special patron.
In addition, this is where the Holy Spirit is formally requested.
A Catholic marriage is also an important means of grace in itself, in addition to the usual principle of commitment of two people before God.
They also promote singleness and celibacy, particularly amongst the Priesthood.
6. Holy Orders
This is the organisation of the church clergy and officers such as Priests, Deacons, and Bishops.
Normal members as laity people must therefore be under these procedures and authority in order to receive salvation and grace, which are only issued through the Catholic Church.
7. Anointing of the Sick
This is often just before death in order to deal with mortal sins before passing away.
3. Offering Indulgences
These are provided to help reduce people’s time in Purgatory, and although more evident many centuries ago, and issues of clear missuse and financial gain around the Reformation, within modern Catholicism these have come back into fashion. The current Pope Francis even offers these to his heart-felt Twitter followers.
This involves the belief that the sins and guilt of people have already been forgiven, but there is still a temporal punishment to deal with due to these already-now-forgiven sins. Such Indulgences can therefore help remedy this, not only on behlaf of yourself, but also Christians who have already died.
4. Church Developments
There is a long history on how Catholicism has emerged over the centuries. In short, I see this in four stages and very generalised periods:
1. A form of early Christianity a few centuries after Christ with the Roman state’s influence
2. Emergence of the new Protestant faith around 1,500 after the middle dark ages where Catholicism and the Papacy were the main stream Christian faith until then
3. The official take-over of the Pope in 1798 by Napoleon which I see as an interpretation of in the book of Daniel
4. The re-emergence and popularity of Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century, particularly from the sixties in a newer more ecumenical and spiritual-renewal stance
Vatican two in the sixties helped modernise various doctrines, mainly through Pope Paul the 6th, with focus on involving other Christians outside the church in an ecumenical movement, therefore seeing Protestants as more separated brethren from then rather than heretics.
This has led to assuming that the Reformation is over, with Protestant denominations signing an agreement stating that they believe the same thing doctrinally (details covered in the final part of the Daniel Study).
The Jesuits were formed in the Counter Reformation after 1,500, which is the deadly and more underhand-side of the Papacy changing society behind the scenes, with the aim of removing true Protestantism. They now have incomprehensible control now of nations, kings, education and cult-groups.
In addition, although this is a hard thing to say, the fact of the matter is that the Papacy and Catholic Church has also been responsible for tens of millions of deaths over the centuries.
5. The Place of Purgatory
This is as assumed state that is basically better than hell, but worse than heaven, and between when you die and arrive at one of these end destinations.
It is where sin is essentially burned off, however, with debate on whether this is through a literal fire as historically believed, or not.
Therefore, prayers will be made at a Catholic funeral to ‘assist them’ in this state of Purgatory, with the idea that by accessing the Treasury of Merits they can help reduce their time in here (and Indulgences and Mass being granted to them).
It is perceived as a point of preparation and cleansing ready for heaven, with reference to Ephesians 5:26-27.
Saints, however, are believed to be no longer in Purgatory, but rather direct in heaven. Therefore, you can appeal to their excessive and underutilised good-works, as they’re already secured in heaven and therefore their merits can be applied for others on earth and Purgatory.
You can also prayer to the dead themselves within this place (alongside Mary and the Saints), as opposed to the Protestant view that you only pray to God the Father or Jesus Christ as there is no reference to praying to others in scripture.
They believe that everyone will be first judged by Christ after death at the Judgement Seat of Christ and receive any particular judgement based upon the deeds of their earthly life. There is then a final judgement by God of everyone at the end of time before the final new heaven and earth.
6. Mary the Mother of Jesus
Along with Jesus and the Saints, Mary is believed to have special powers. This is actually inferring superiority above Christ Himself, with the ability for us to pray direct to Mary (and the Saints generally) who can pardon sin.
She had an immaculate conception herself, therefore, free from original sin as she has never sinned.
Also, she is believed to be a virgin afterwards as well as leading up to Christ’s birth, with reference to Jesus’ brothers and sisters believed to be cousins and therefore presumably not actual direct children of Mary.
A Bodily Assumption doctrine also emerged in the fifties, where Mary was automatically taken up to heaven rather than a natural birth.
She also has many titles, with special honour above all other Saints, and deserving unique liturgical feasts.
7. Church Authority
The Catholic Church believes they have ultimate authority on earth for God, including issuing forgiveness for sins.
Early teachings were discussed in Church Councils and summarised in various creeds, particularly the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed. Catechisms have been issued since the sixteenth century which summarise the church's teachings, the most recent one being in 1992.
Salvation is only through the Catholic Church, on the basis that this is Christ’s body here on earth. Only genuine cases of people not knowing the gospel or Catholic Church with a sincere heart, are believed to be also saved.
The church is perceived to co-exists on earth (church militant), in Purgatory (church suffering), and in Heaven (Church triumphant). Therefore, Jesus, Mary, and the saints are part of the ‘church’ - the Communion of Saints in an earth-and-heaven unity.
Therefore, the church and not the individual is the primary carrier of the faith.
8. The Bible’s Influence
Protestants believe Sola Scriptura, and that all revealed truth required for salvation is within scripture, with rightly-selected individual canonical books within the Bible.
Catholicism believes that the church traditions and appointed persons and the Pope have the ultimate say in how faith is lived out on earth, actually over and above the authority of God’s Word.
This has also led to various interpretations of scripture into more authoritative catechisms, for example a different numbering and inclusion of the Ten Commandments, and emphasis on other non-biblical books and writings.
Catholicism also has two uses of scripture, firstly literal which means what it says alongside good interpretation. Secondly, spiritual with three sub-divisions; allegorical, moral, and anatomical.
9. The Religious Routine
The Roman Catholic church appears to have an impressive display of its authority, riches, and spirituality. Protestant faith tends to focus on faith in Christ personally in fellowship with other believers.
Veneration of the Saints in particular, uses images of the Saints, and statutes etc, as an important focal point.
There are also Ornaments and items such as trees, incense, candles, lamps, holy water, holy days and seasons, calendars, processions, sacerdotal vestments, ecclesiastical charts, and even the design of church buildings being towards the east.
Worship services are prescribed by means of the liturgy as regulated by the church, with the above-mentioned Sacraments being an essential part of this.
There is the inclusion of the annual liturgical Calendar which begins with Advent, and includes Christmas, Easter and Lent.
There is also an emphasis on helping others and social welfare, both corporately and individually. Of course, this is a core teaching of all faiths to love others.
10. Who Jesus Is
This is the core difference that I have come to realise that everything else hinges on.
Protestants believe three things. Firstly, that He is the Son of God. Secondly, that his atoning sacrifice is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins from God and receive salvation. And thirdly, after receiving the Holy Spirit we must allow Christ’s life to work through us.
Within Catholicism, they agree the first point about Jesus being the Son of God, but not the second and third points in the same way. The goodness and grace of Jesus can help with our salvation (but so can others as well), but not his death as the only all-encompassing way of salvation.
And when it comes to relating to Christ after the point of salvation, this involves all of the above points in a walk of basically receiving grace back again via other means.
I think this will be the bottom line – whether Jesus Christ and His sacrifice is the ONLY way to God.
The 10 Catholicism Differences
The above ten points are the main differences I have come to appreciate between the Roman Catholic faith and core Protestant Christian faith.
These have developed over the centuries in various guises, with the Protestant Reformation being the main split between them followed by the Counter Reformation by the Papacy against this.
What I found interesting when studying the book of Daniel is how the Reformers of old saw these differences biblically through what God was warning about in prophecies, whereas modern Christianity has ignored these and gone back to partnering with the belief of the Papcy in an Ecumenical movement.