Top 5 Differences Between Protestants and Catholics

At the request of my cousin, who is an Assembly of God minister, I wrote a synthesis (as best I could whip together in a few hours) of the top 5 differences between Protestants and Catholics.  It was hard to narrow the list down to 5, because of course I wanted to include every topic, all of the arguments, all of the ramifications.  But I did my best to keep it to a simple presentation of Catholic belief.

The five topics I chose are the papacy, the Eucharist, Mary, Purgatory, and Sacred Tradition.  Thanks to Catholic Answers, I had scriptural references and great explanations at my fingertips through and Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth, a handy little tract.  Thanks be to God, I just happened to have that little book with me, and it came in very handy.  A lot of the explanations below are only slightly modified from that book.  I'll make this a 5-part series for the coming Saturdays!

All of Catholic teaching hinges on the doctrine of the Incarnation: that Christ is truly the Son of God, and therefore fully divine, Who came into the world and became man (took on human nature in everything but sin) for the purpose of dying to save us and reconcile us with the Father.  Understanding that fundamental fact, the divinity of Christ, is key to understanding Catholic doctrine.  The scriptural bases on which we rest our belief in the divinity of Christ are as follows: Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 16:16-17, John 1:1, John 8:58, John 10:30, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:1-3, Hebrews 1:8,10.

2. Eucharist

Catholics believe that the Eucharist is not just a symbol, but is truly the body and blood of Christ Himself, under the form of bread and wine.

God’s Old Testament people ate the Passover lamb which saved them from death.  Now we must eat the Lamb which is the Eucharist.  Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).  At the Last Supper, He took bread and wine and said “Take; this is my body…this is my blood” (Mark 14:22-24); he doesn’t say “this is like my body” or “this is the symbol of my body” but “this is”.  Thus He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacrificial meal Catholics consume at each Mass (Matt. 14:22-24).  The Catholic Church teaches that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross occurred “once for all”, never to be repeated (Heb. 9:28).  Christ does not “die again” during Mass, but the very same sacrifice that occurred on Calvary is made present on the altar, so Mass is not another sacrifice but a participation in the one sacrifice.  After the consecration of the bread and wine, no bread or wine remains on the altar.  Only Jesus Himself, under the appearance of bread and wine, remains.

We believe from John 6 and other passages throughout Scripture (like 1 Cor. 11:27-29) that the bread and wine really become, by a miracle of the power of God, the actual body and blood of Jesus!  Here is an explanation of the basic interpretation of John 6:

First, everyone listening to Jesus’ actual discourse 2,000 years ago believed him to have meant what he said. That is significant. This is in stark contrast to other places in the gospel where Jesus did, in fact, speak metaphorically. For example, when Jesus spoke of himself as a “door” in John 10, or a “vine” in John 15, we find no one to have asked, “How can this man be a door made out of wood?” Or, “How can this man claim to be a plant?”

Compare these to John 6. Jesus plainly says, in verse 51, “I am the bread come down from heaven and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (vs. 51). The Jews immediately respond, as I said above, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” They certainly understood him to mean what he said.

Moreover, when people misunderstand Jesus, he normally clears up the misunderstanding as we see in John 4:31-34 when the disciples urge our Lord to eat and our Lord responds, “I have food to eat which you do not know.” The disciples ask each other if anyone had brought any food because they thought our Lord was saying he had to bring his own food because they had forgotten to do so. They misunderstand him. But our Lord immediately clears things up saying, in verse 34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”

Thus, in the Mass, Jesus becomes really present on the altar and gives Himself to us in a real communion.  Jesus’ words in John 6:63, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail” have essentially a twofold meaning: only the Spirit can accomplish the miracle of the Eucharist; and only the Spirit can empower us to believe the miracle.