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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Why are good deeds not enough? (Heidelberg 24)

Having heard that we are made right with God through faith alone, in this session we think about two questions people often ask: why can we not please God through good works? And if our good works don’t earn anything – doesn’t that mean we can just do what we like?

This is such an important issue to be thinking about. If good works don’t earn anything with God, does that just mean we can act however we like? It’s a good question, and it’s one which a lot of people ask.

The Heidelberg breaks it down into three questions:

  • Q62 “Why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?”
  • Q63 “But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?”
  • Q64 “Does this teaching not make people careless and wicked?”

I think that final question is the one which people ask – if our good works don’t earn anything, why not just do whatever you like? Why not just live any way you choose? What does the Bible have to say to that question…

Want more?

If you enjoy this, you can do the whole series right here on the website, or on the app (see links on the right hand side of the page). Alternatively, I am uploading them regularly to YouTube and Facebook. All sessions on YouTube are available on this playlist.

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Faith Alone (Heidelberg 23)

In this session we are looking at one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith – that we are right with God (or “justified”) by faith alone. Not through the good works that we do or by earning in any way.

This is really taking the things we’ve looked at over the past few weeks (the Apostle’s Creed) and asking, “Why is it important to believe all of this? And how do we benefit from it?”

There are three questions in this Lord’s Day:

  • Q59 “But what does it help you now that you believe all this?”
  • Q60 “How are you righteous before God?”
  • Q61 “Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?”

“Faith alone” is one of the most important topics that Christians can think about – it makes a huge difference to the Christian life. It’s hard to overstate how important it is.

Want more?

If you enjoy this, you can do the whole series right here on the website, or on the app (see links on the right hand side of the page). Alternatively, I am uploading them regularly to YouTube and Facebook. All sessions on YouTube are available on this playlist.

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