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 next 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.

3.      Purgatory

Catholics believe that everyone will, after death, end up in one of three places – heaven, if the person dies with a clean soul; hell, if the person dies after having committed a grave sin which has not yet been forgiven; or purgatory, if the person dies in a state of friendship with God but is still imperfect.  At the end of time, the souls in Purgatory will complete their purification and enter heaven.  Here’s a basic definition from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. . . . The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1030 – 1031)

Here’s the basic logical argument for Purgatory:

Premise 1: There will be neither sin nor attachment to sin in heaven.

Premise 2: We (at least most of us) are still sinning and are attached to sin at the end of this life.

Conclusion: Therefore there must be a period between death and heavenly glory in which the saved are cleansed of sin and their attachment to sin.

Because this is a deductive argument, if one wants to dispute the conclusion, he must take issue with one of the premises, since the conclusion follows from them necessarily.  So which is it?

Is it not true that the saved in heaven are perfectly sanctified? (“[N]othing unclean shall enter [heaven].” — Rev 21:27).

Or is it not true that we are still sinning and attached to sin at the end of our earthly life? (“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” — 1 John 1:8).

Other Scriptural passages that support Purgatory are as follows:

"For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin" (2 Macc. 12:44-45). (N.B.  There are differences between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles, so you might not have this quote.)

"But nothing unclean shall enter it [heaven] . . ." (Rev. 21:27).

Matt. 5:25-26, 1 Cor. 3:13-15, 1 Peter 3:18-20