Main difference between Protestants and Catholics

What is the main difference between Protestants and Roman Catholics? When I ask people if they have any questions about Christianity, one thing which often comes up is what the differences are between denominations. It’s a good question! It would take far too long to go into all the distinctions – some of them are more important than others. The most important one (in my opinion) is the main thing which divides Catholics and Protestants. It is justification by faith alone.

The key points

  • There are lots of different denominations with lots of differences. This is a question people often ask. Some differences are small and insignificant, some are bigger.
  • In this session, we’ll focus on the most fundamental difference between Protestants and Catholics – there is one which is most significant.
  • It is justification by faith alone (I should have made clearer in the video: it’s a doctrine which Roman Catholicism rejects – see the books below for more information about that).
  • It is taught in the Bible in places such as Ephesians 2:8-10, which teaches:
    1. We are saved by God’s grace – his unmerited favour (GRACE = God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense);
    2. Through faith – our faith is the empty hand which clings onto God’s promises (“nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling” – Rock of Ages);
    3. This is not from ourselves – we cannot even claim the faith that we have to be something good which we’ve done ourselves;
    4. So that no-one can boast.
  • The reason this doctrine is so important is for two reasons. Firstly, because otherwise we could become proud. The Bible does not allow us to take any personal pride in achieving our salvation! It is not at all down to us.
  • Secondly, because of where it leads. If you go down the ‘we deserve salvation’ road, you will end up in a very different place. Ultimately only justification by faith alone frees us to love God and others.

Explore further

I appreciate this is only a brief introduction! If this is a topic which interests you, you might like to read further.

The book I mention in the video is called Freedom Movement by Mike Reeves. It’s a (VERY) short and readable introduction to the Reformation and is available from 10 of those.

For a more detailed book you might also like Why the Reformation Still Matters by Mike Reeves and Tim Chester, available here.

The Heidelberg Catechism course is available here, but the specific video I mention is part #24 – Why are good deeds not enough? This deals with the issue of why it’s so important to believe in ‘faith alone’.

Your questions answered

This is part of the Your questions answered feature. See that page for more videos in the series.

If you have a question about Christianity or the Bible, please send them in or comment below.

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How should Christians keep Sabbath?

One of the things which has cropped up several times over the last few weeks is thinking about the Sabbath. Before Christmas, my wife’s book group read The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. Then I listened to an episode of the Cooper & Cary podcast about Sabbath. All this has got me thinking about the Sabbath commandment.

It’s a command that I’ve always struggled with a bit. When I was younger, the chief thing I remember about Sundays is that I wasn’t allowed to watch TV like normal! We went to church in the morning and the evening, and I would often play with a friend in the afternoon. It certainly felt like a different kind of a day. But is that right? What does the Bible say? And how should Christians think about the Sabbath?

It’s a big question and I don’t pretend to have all the answers here! There’s a session in the Heidelberg Catechism on the Sabbath Day, and there I link to a helpful article by John Piper, you might like to have a look at those as well. But let’s dive in and see what we can learn from the commandment first of all.

The Sabbath Commandment

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

The Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy (shortly before the Israelites enter the Promised Land). Interestingly, the commandment there is slightly different. Instead of “For in six days…”, it finishes:

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Deuteronomy 5:15

Let’s think about a few basic principles which we can draw from this.

Sabbath Principles

One day per week

The first principle is the clear pattern of ‘one day a week’. Work for six days, then have a day of rest. In the Cooper & Cary podcast I mentioned above, they talked about a fascinating article from someone who tried working a seven-day work week. He tried working the same pattern every day, seven days a week, and just tried to build enough rest into each day so he could manage it. It just didn’t work out in the end:

Overall, I feel like the 7-day work week failed because of lack of an extended period of renewal. My hypothesis – that a couple of extra hours during the day and fewer overall daily hours working would be enough – was invalidated in my experience.

It does seem like there is something built into our nature that means we need to take a day off per week. We human beings cannot work continually, even if we have rest time during each day. We need rest. Everyone needs daily time to sleep, along with occasional longer breaks, and we need the weekly rhythm of a day off.

It’s for the whole community

One of the things it would be easy to miss about the commandment is that it’s given to the whole community – “you, your son or daughter, your servant”, etc. In other words, it’s not simply an individualistic ideal but something which is for the whole people of God. This is why Christians have traditionally met together in church on a Sunday (more on that in a minute). Sabbath is not simply a private, individual activity but something which the whole community should get involved with.

This is important for 21st Century Westerners to understand: we live in a world where everything is very individualistic. We live our own private lives, and meeting other people is something which happens almost as an optional extra – something which is an addition to our lives. By contrast, the Bible puts community front and centre. We are individuals, yes, but we are saved as part of a bigger family – the people of God, the church. Sabbath doesn’t involve just us but the whole people of God.

It’s about “Rest”

People resting in a hammock

One of the most intriguing things to me about the Sabbath commandment is the last line (from Exodus 20) – “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…” So there is a pattern, built into the very fabric of creation itself: God made everything in six days, then rested (Genesis 2:2-3).

Rest is actually a very important concept in the Bible. It’s more than simply ‘putting your feet up’. It’s more like a state of mind, or being. Think about the seventh day when God rested: when did that day end? There’s no “and there was evening, and there was morning” to finish the day. It’s almost as if the seventh day continued indefinitely – and still continues today. Is God resting still? I think Genesis leaves that question wide open, intentionally.

So what does ‘rest’ mean? Let’s turn to Revelation 14:13, which says:

“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.’”

Rest here is something that Christians enter into when they die. They will rest from their “labour”. I don’t believe this is something a simple as the earthly work that we do. It’s more fundamental than that: it’s the work that we do in order to earn favour with God. We human beings naturally think that we need to work – to do good deeds – to earn favour with God. This is how human life is set up: if you don’t work, you don’t earn; if you don’t earn, you don’t eat. (As a general rule – let’s ignore the question of the welfare state for now!)

So rest is not putting your feet up: it’s more fundamental than that. It means trusting in God’s grace: trusting that our deeds can never be enough to earn favour with God, and trusting that he alone is the one who provides our spiritual and physical needs. Sabbath, therefore, is about letting go of our own efforts to earn and trusting in God’s grace. I think this is why the second version of the commandment (from Deuteronomy) talks about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt: it wasn’t something they earned or did by their own efforts! God brought them out by his grace.

The Sabbath rest is designed to teach us that our works are not enough, but that God’s grace is enough. Therefore is it not about stopping working as such, but about not earning.

Keeping it holy

The final Sabbath principle we’ll think about is that the Sabbath should be ‘kept holy’. What does that mean? ‘Holy’ is a word that describes God. It’s hard to define concisely – it means God in his perfection, splendour, righteousness, justice, etc. God is the ‘most most-est‘. When we say he is holy we are saying he is perfect love, perfect light, everything good and perfect is contained within him.

So what does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy? Partly it means resting, as we looked at in the previous section. But I believe it includes more than that: it includes things like worshipping God together, learning from the Bible, and so on. Doing activities which are more explicitly ‘Christian’, if you like.

This is another reason why traditionally Christians have gone to church on a Sunday: it is the day set aside for corporate worship, when the whole church comes together. Personally I couldn’t imagine a Sunday without meeting as a church – it’s such an ingrained part of my life now! This doesn’t mean we can’t have church on other days, but rather that there is something special when the whole church meets together on the Lord’s Day.

Why Sunday rather than Saturday?

T-shirt with message "Jesus kept the sabbath every Saturday"

The Eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that the Sabbath pattern is to work for six days, then rest. If Sunday is the first day of the week, then this would mean the Sabbath day was a Saturday – as it was for the Old Testament people of Israel, and continues to be for Jewish people today. Why did the early church decide to change this day to a Sunday? Are we being disobedient to God by having Sabbath on a Sunday instead of a Saturday?

I don’t believe so. Early Christians changed the day of the Sabbath because Sunday was the day the Lord Jesus rose from the dead (all four gospels make clear that Jesus was risen on the first day of the week). Sunday is the day we celebrate the resurrection, when we can celebrate entering into the rest which God has promised us.

So how should Christians keep the Sabbath?

One of the things I like about the Sabbath commandment is that it’s actually quite open-ended. It doesn’t specify you must do this or that. Even the commandment not to work doesn’t actually say what that actually means. For example, in some jobs such as farming there are things which have to be done each day. You can’t stop feeding animals on the Sabbath – that would be a cruel thing to do!

In a dispute about what was lawful to do on the Sabbath, Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus said that the Sabbath is made for us and our benefit. It’s not some arbitrary rule which we need to keep just because God doesn’t like us to have fun on one day! It’s supposed to be something which is beneficial and enjoyable for us.

So I think obsessing about what is and is not permissible on the Sabbath day misses the point. It’s up to our own conscience and situation to decide what is and is not appropriate for us. I don’t think a rule-based approach is really helpful.

I would say as a rule of thumb the following might be helpful:

  • Attending church at least once to worship with other Christians and hear from his word;
  • Maybe spend time socialising with other Christians – the ministers at my old church used to invite people round for lunch after church regularly;
  • Rest from whatever work it is that you usually do, and remember that with God you do not have to earn;
  • Spend some time doing something you enjoy with your friends / family and give thanks to God for it.

Give us your two pence!

Do you have any more insights about Sabbath? Have you found anything particularly helpful? Are there things you can recommend? Let us know in the comments below!

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Why should we use liturgy? – Your questions answered

A lot of people think the only way to pray properly is for everything to be spontaneous. But I think there are good reasons to use services and prayers which are written, as well as spontaneous prayers. Here are four reasons why it’s important to use liturgy.

The key points

  1. We all use liturgy, whether it’s written down or not. If the liturgy we use is written down, we can judge it against the Bible.
  2. God often repeats things – it’s how we learn. Things often go in deeper when we repeat them – especially when we’re young. (I didn’t mention it in the video, but you might like the book You are what you love by James K.A. Smith)
  3. Good liturgy teaches us to worship God. Good liturgy doesn’t just help us to worship God in that moment, but it teaches us to worship God day-by-day. It shapes our whole attitude to God.
  4. The most important thing is our hearts. It’s possible to read the words from a page like you’re reading the newspaper – but that doesn’t have to be the case. Whether words are written or whether they are spontaneous, they can and should come from the heart.

Explore further

Part two of the How to live a Christian course is about prayer.

Part three of the Heidelberg Catechism course goes through the Lord’s Prayer – starting with session 45 on prayer.

Your questions answered

This is the fourth video for the Your questions answered feature. See the rest of the series on that page.

If you have a question about Christianity or the Bible, please send them in or comment below.

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How does God guide us? – Your questions answered

Guidance is something we’re all looking for. What career should I choose? Who should I marry? Whenever we’re facing big decisions (or even small decisions!) we want to know what the right choice is. As Christians, we believe that God guides us. But how?

Here’s a brief video which introduces the big picture of how God guides us today.

How God guides us: key points

  • We need to look at the big picture of what God wants us to do with our lives.
  • The big picture is found in the two greatest commandments (love God and love our neighbour) – Mark 12:29-31.
  • How do we know what that actually looks like?
  • We love God by asking him to help us – Psalm 25:4-5. God loves us when we ask him for his help and guidance.
  • The 10 Commandments are a guide to how we love others – they’re God’s framework for helping us know how to love.
  • The rest of the Bible helps us to understand what God’s will is for us.
  • You could sum it up in Proverbs 3:5-6.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
   and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
   and he will make your paths straight.

Explore further

Proverbs is great for guidance. You might be interested in the Wisdom of Proverbs: Guidance.

You might also appreciate this sermon on guidance from Proverbs 16.

Also check out session #9 of the Heidelberg Catechism, God our Father.

Your questions answered

This is the fourth video for the Your questions answered feature. See the rest of the series on that page.

If you have a question about Christianity or the Bible, please send them in or comment below.

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Do Christians need to keep the 10 Commandments?

One of the biggest questions people have about the Christian life is about our obedience. Do Christians need to keep the 10 Commandments? Is that what the Christian life is all about?

This is another huge topic, so this video is just a short introduction with a couple of pointers to some more detailed information.

Summary of the video

Here’s a brief summary of the points I make in the video:

  • Do Christians need to keep the 10 commandments? The answer is “It’s complicated” – it’s a bit like yes / no / yes…
  • In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”
  • Jesus didn’t come to remove any laws but fulfil them. What does that mean?
  • Romans 3:20 says, “through the law we become conscious of our sin”.
  • The Law shines a light on our lives and helps us to see our sin.
  • The reason we need the law in the first place is because there is something wrong with us – we want to do the wrong thing.
  • Romans 8:1-4 says that the law cannot help us with our innate problem with sin – only Jesus can do that.
  • Jesus came to do what the law couldn’t do. He makes us righteous from the inside out.
  • Jesus can help us want to love God and love others – something which we could never do by simply trying to obey the commandments.
  • Jeremiah 31:33 says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” This is a prophecy of what God would do in Jesus.
  • Through Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, God writes his laws on our hearts.
  • Finally, in Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus uses the example of murder. It’s a command most people think they’ve kept. But Jesus shows that none of us have kept even this law perfectly.
  • We need a transformation to love others!

Explore further

You might like to look at the Sermon on the Mount course.

You might also appreciate session 15 of the New City Catechism: What’s the point of the Law (if we can’t keep it)?

Your questions answered

This is the third video for the Your questions answered feature.

If you have a question about Christianity or the Bible, please send them in or comment below.

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How can we know the Bible is true?

One of the questions people often have is, how can we know the Bible is true? The Bible contains so much which seems strange to us. For one, it’s full of miracles. And the very centre of the story is based on Jesus – a man who performed many miracles and rose up from the grave. Can we trust that this is true, or is it more like one of Aesop’s fables?

This is a huge question and obviously in a short video we don’t have time to look at all the answers. In this video I focus on the gospels, drawing on Peter Williams’ brilliant book Can we Trust the Gospels?

Summary of the video

  • The Bible centres on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – so if we can trust the gospels, we can almost certainly trust the rest of the Bible.
  • Peter Williams’ book is the best book on the reliability of the gospels that I’ve ever read.
  • He talks about a number of reasons why we can trust in the gospel as historically reliable. Here are just a couple:
    1. Geography. The gospels talk about a lot of places. All four gospels have unique place names which no other gospel mentions. Those place names range from large, common cities to local, relatively uncommon names. For someone to make this up, it would require research beyond anything we’ve ever seen from this time period!
    2. Undesigned coincidences. This is when a fact in one gospel is confirmed almost “accidentally” by another gospel. So, for example, Mark describes James and John as the ‘sons of thunder’. Luke doesn’t call them that, but he does record them wanting to call down fire on a village.
  • He says that if it wasn’t for the miracles of Jesus, no serious historian would consider the gospels unreliable. So can we trust that the miracles are true?
    1. The miracles are not random – they occur within a whole picture which fits together. It would take a huge leap of faith to believe everything was fiction or happened by coincidence.
    2. The resurrection turns the disciples around. Through the gospels, the disciples are portrayed as misunderstanding lots of things, rarely getting anything right. What turned them into the group of men who evangelised the world? They would not have suffered and died as they did unless they knew it was true.
    3. The first witness of the resurrection was a woman. In those days, the testimony of a woman was inadmissible in court. No-one wanting to make up the story of the resurrection would make a woman be the first witness of the resurrection. It wouldn’t help the case at all.
  • As Sherlock Holmes famously said: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. It would take more faith to believe that the gospels were not true.

Your questions answered

This is the second video of a new feature called Your questions answered. (This particular video was originally recorded for my own church).

If you have a question about Christianity or the Bible, please send them in or comment below.

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Can we see the original version of the Bible? – Your questions answered

Is it possible to see the original version of the Bible anywhere? If not, how do we know that what it says is accurate?

In this video we look at these questions:

  • why there aren’t any original copies of the Bible left?
  • how did the Bible come down to us through the years?
  • how can we be confident that we have the Greek New Testament accurately?

Key facts

  • We have about 5,800 copies of the New Testament in Greek
  • The earliest fragment of the New Testament is from about 150AD, a small part of John’s Gospel, called Papyrus 52
  • The earliest complete New Testament is from about 300AD called the Codex Vaticanus
  • The New Testament has far more manuscripts available than any other ancient writing
  • There are very few places in the New Testament where we’re really not sure what the original version said – e.g. ‘we have peace’ or ‘let us have peace’ (in Romans 5:1)
  • There are only two well-known fragments of the New Testament which look like they have been added since the Bible was written, which most modern Bibles bracket out

Your questions answered

This is the first of a new feature called Your questions answered. (This particular video was originally recorded for my own church).

If you have a question about Christianity or the Bible, please send them in or comment below.

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