What is the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism?

by Matt Slick

There are huge differences between Protestant and Catholic theologies. Two of the most important differences deal with salvation and Mary. In Protestant theology salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone without the contribution of works. However, in Roman Catholicism, salvation is attained through baptism, keeping the commandments, and participation in the sacraments. Where Protestantism affirms justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Roman Catholicism denies it. Since these positions are opposite, they cannot both be true.

  • CCC 2068 (CCC is the Catechism of the Catholic Church), "the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments."
  • CCC 2027, "Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods."

The Protestant movement regards Mary as a very blessed woman who bore the Messiah. However, it also teaches that she was a sinner like anyone else (Luke 1:47, Romans 3:23). Catholicism, on the other hand, raises Mary to an unwarranted position where she can, for example, hear all the prayers of people all over the world, simultaneously, thought and spoken, in different languages. In much of Catholicism access to Jesus is said to be only through Mary. This is problematic, contradicts Scripture, and exemplifies yet another strong difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic theology.

  • [Mary] "Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix,'" (CCC, par. 969).
  • Mary was "Preserved free from all stain of original sin," (CCC, par. 966).

These differences, and many others, are so profound, particularly in the area of salvation before God, that the Roman Catholic church cannot be said to be Christian. It is apostate.

Following is a grid that compares Protestant and Catholic positions on various topics.

AuthorityFinal authority is God's WordFinal authority is the Pope and Magisterium. Pope is infallible when speaking "from the chair."
ClergyCelibacy not requiredCelibacy required
CommunionSymbol of Christ's sacrifice on the crossThe elements (bread and wine) become through the ritual and authority of the priest the actual body and blood of Jesus.
LeadershipNo PopePope is final human authority
MaryConsidered honorable and blessed woman, deny assumption and mediatrix office of MaryMary is highly exalted. Assumption of Mary (CCC 966); "Advocate, Helper, Mediatrix" (CCC 969), Queen over all things (CCC 966), "All holy one" (CCC 2677), preserved from original sin (CCC 966), prayer is offered to Mary (CCC 971), second only to Jesus (Vatican Council II, p. 421), she crushed the head of the serpent (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus).
PurgatoryDenies existence of PurgatoryPurgatory is a place of purification after a person dies where he achieves holiness so as to enter into the joy of heaven (CCC 1030).
SaintsAll who are Christians are called saintsSaints are special individuals who do not have to pass through purgatory and have been declared by the Roman Catholic Church to be holy.
SacramentsVisible manifestation of God's work through Baptism and CommunionA means of grace and its infusion into the Catholic. The RC seven sacraments consist of Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick.
SalvationBy grace alone through faith alone in Christ aloneThrough baptism, keeping commandments (CCC 2068), penance, and sacraments in the Catholic church.
Scripture66 Books in the Bible, does not contain the Apocrypha73 Books in the Bible, containing the Apocrypha
TraditionTradition is subservient to ScriptureTradition is equal to Scripture


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About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.